What is a Social Security Number?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 15 February 2020
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People in the US may keep a lot of numbers in their heads, and one of these is the nine-digit number that is their social security number. It is used in so many places, unless a social security card is carried, it may be necessary to memorize it. Many folks are so accustomed to presenting this number, they may not even think what it means, why they have it, and how it started. Really many of the reasons for which people might use it today have nothing to do with its original intent; to register people in the social security program and to apply tax accordingly.

The Social Security program was part of the post-Depression New Deal created by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. This imposed a tax on workers but also made it possible for them to collect money after reaching a certain age. When these numbers began to be issued back in the 1930s, they were usually only given to working adults in order to provide needed tracking for the program. Children didn’t get a social security number, and many people who didn’t work didn’t have one. Gradually this has evolved. Presently, parents often have to get newborn babies social security numbers so that they claim these children on their taxes.


In general, most people who work will need to provide a social security number at point of hire so that their earnings have taxes removed from them to go to the various social security programs. Concern has always been raised by some that tracking people by number is a serious issue, and up until the last century, these numbers really weren’t supposed to be used in any other context. This has changed quite dramatically.

In addition to federal requirements for these numbers, there are now many businesses that won’t work with people who don’t possess a social security number. The number is used to track credit history, and often to do things like apply for any type of loan or to open a bank account. Doctor’s offices may require it as surety of payment and many other businesses can ask for it too. The request for a social security number doesn’t always need to be honored, but a lot of businesses could then refuse service.

Given the high number of reasons a social security number is requested in the modern world, many may not even be familiar with its original meaning and intent. Of course, that intent is still very much present. The US still uses these numbers in the manner originally planned. However, it can be said that this nine-digit number is now employed in many other ways that were not initially conceived.



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