In the United States, a Social Security number (SSN) is a nine-digit number issued to U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and temporary (working) residents under section 205(c)(2) of the Social Security Act, codified as 42 U.S.C. § 405(c)(2). The number is issued to an individual by the Social Security Administration an independent agency of the United States government.
Its primary purpose is to track individuals for taxation purposes. In recent years the SSN has become a de facto national identification number. A social security number may be obtained by applying on Form SS-5, "Application for A Social Security Number Card".
The first SSNs were issued by the Social Security Administration in November 1936 as part of the New Deal (The New Deal was the name that United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave to his complex package of economic programs 1933-36 with the goals of what historians call the 3 Rs, of giving Relief to the unemployed and badly hurt farmers, Reform of business and financial practices, and promoting Recovery of the economy during the Great Depression.) Social Security program. Within three months, 25 million numbers were issued.
Before 1986, people often did not have a Social Security number until the age of about 14, since they were used for income tracking purposes, and those under that age seldom had substantial income. In 1986, American taxation law was altered so that individuals over 5 years old without Social Security numbers could not be successfully claimed as dependents on tax returns; by 1990 the threshold was lowered to 1 year old, and was later abolished altogether. Since then, parents have often applied for Social Security numbers for their children soon after birth; today, it can be done on the application for a birth certificate.
The original purpose of this number was to track individuals accounts within the Social Security program. It has since come to be used as an identifier for individuals within the United States, although rare errors occur where duplicates do exist. Employee, patient, student, and credit records are sometimes indexed by Social Security number. The U.S. Armed Forces has used the Social Security number as an identification number for the Army and Air Force since July 1, 1969, the Navy and Marine Corps since January 1, 1972, and the Coast Guard since October 1, 1974. Previously, the United States military used a much more complicated system of service numbers.
Social Security was originally a universal tax, but when Medicare was passed in 1965, objecting religious groups in existence prior to 1951 were allowed to opt out of the system. Because of this, not every American is part of the Social Security program, and not everyone has a number. However, a social security number is required for parents to claim their children as dependents for federal income tax purposes, and the Internal Revenue Service requires all corporations to obtain SSNs (or alternative identifying numbers) from their employees, as described below. The Old Order Amish have fought to prevent universal Social Security by overturning rules such as a requirement to provide a Social Security number for a hunting license.
Social Security Cards up until the 1980s expressly stated the number and card were not to be used for identification purposes. Since nearly everyone in the United States now has a number, it became convenient to use it anyway and the message was removed.
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