Fact Check: A Person's Race Is NOT Encoded In Their Social Security Number

Fact Check

  • by: Sarah Thompson
Fact Check: A Person's Race Is NOT Encoded In Their Social Security Number No Race Code

Does a person's Social Security number reveal information about their race? No, that's not true: This rumor is based on fears that personal information encoded in a Social Security number could result in racial discrimination. This concern is unfounded as the numbers assigned by the Social Security Administration (SSA) do not contain information about a person's race. Currently Social Security numbers (SSNs) are issued in a method called "randomization." SSNs issued prior to June 25, 2011, followed a system that was designed in 1936. The first three digits were a code connected to an area of the country. The rest of the numbers, albeit a complex filing code, simply reflect the order the numbers were assigned to applicants -- but do not have personal information about those applicants encoded in the number. The application for a Social Security number does require identifying information -- date of birth, place of birth, and parents' names -- but information on the applicant's race is optional, and none of this information is encoded in the SSN.

The rumor that racial information is encoded in the SSN has circulated for many years, and Snopes debunked it in 1999. In 2011, the system for assigning numbers was changed. The old rumor was included in episode #36 of "We Outside After Work Podcast" posted on YouTube on May 17, 2023. A 35-second-long clip from that episode was posted as a reel on the @weoutsideafterwork Instagram account on May 20, 2023. The post was captioned:

We wanna see something? πŸ‘€πŸ‘€ comment yes or noπŸ‘‡πŸ½
#newepisode 36 OUT NOW ‼️
All πŸ”—'s in bio 🫑
#trueorfalse #loanapproval #conspiracytheory #urbanlegend #newpodcasts #reels #reelsinstagram #blackcreatives #blackpodcasters #weoutside #saturday

This is how the reel appeared at the time of writing:

(Image source: Instagram screenshot taken on Mon May 22 21:12:44 2023 UTC)

A portion of the conversation between podcast hosts Dana and Aaron posted on Instagram features this exchange:

Dana: I don't know how true this is, apparently every black person... their Social Security card is the even in the middle. Is that true?

Aaron: Mine is the even number.

Dana: Mine is too, hers is too. And even if you, let's say are trying to get a loan for a house right? Or like some type of loan through the bank and you mark any other race or even "other" - they look at your Social and already know that you're black.

This is not true, even numbers in the middle of the SSN are not just assigned to black people. Notwithstanding the agency's assurances, even comments on the post from their audience demonstrate that people of all races have numbers which are both odd and even.

Two articles from the SSA, archived in SSA History pages are titled, "A Myth About Social Security Numbers" and "The SSN Numbering Scheme." They explain how the old numbering system worked. The nine-digit number has three parts. The first three digits represent the Area Number. The next two digits are the Group Number, and the last four digits are a Serial Number: AAA-GG-SSSS.

In the "A Myth About Social Security Numbers" articles, the Group Number terminology is considered to be the source of the concern.

Apparently due to the fact that the middle digits of the SSN are referred to as the "group number," some people have misconstrued this to mean that the "group number" refers to racial groupings. So a myth goes around from time-to-time that encoded in a person's SSN is a key to their race. This simply is not true.

The Group Number, the two digits in the middle, is part of a filing system that was developed in 1936. There is no personal information about the person which could be derived from simply looking at their SSN.

Within each area, the group number (middle two (2) digits) range from 01 to 99 but are not assigned in consecutive order. For administrative reasons, group numbers issued first consist of the ODD numbers from 01 through 09 and then EVEN numbers from 10 through 98, within each area number allocated to a State. After all numbers in group 98 of a particular area have been issued, the EVEN Groups 02 through 08 are used, followed by ODD Groups 11 through 99.

The Area Number is associated with a place -- but could be the place of birth, where first employed, or simply where mail was delivered at the time of the application for a Social Security card. The other numbers record the order in which numbers are assigned for that area. People may apply for a SSN at different periods of their life, so the last six digits of a SSN cannot be used to determine even a rough estimate of the applicant's age.

Since June 25, 2011, SSNs are now assigned with a method the agency calls randomization:

The Social Security Administration (SSA) changed the way Social Security Numbers (SSNs) are issued on June 25, 2011. This change is referred to as "randomization." The SSA developed this new method to help protect the integrity of the SSN. SSN Randomization will also extend the longevity of the nine-digit SSN nationwide. ...

There are approximately 420 million numbers available for assignment. However, the previous SSN assignment process limited the number of SSNs available for issuance to individuals by each state. Changing the assignment methodology extended the longevity of the nine digit SSN in all states. On July 3, 2007, the SSA published its intent to randomize the nine-digit SSN in the Federal Register Notice, Protecting the Integrity of Social Security Numbers [Docket No. SSA 2007-0046].

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  Sarah Thompson

Sarah Thompson lives with her family and pets on a small farm in Indiana. She founded a Facebook page and a blog called “Exploiting the Niche” in 2017 to help others learn about manipulative tactics and avoid scams on social media. Since then she has collaborated with journalists in the USA, Canada and Australia and since December 2019 she works as a Social Media Authenticity Analyst at Lead Stories.


Read more about or contact Sarah Thompson

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