Whither Social Security

Hi Matt:

Articles have been written regarding the uncertainty of the future of the Social Security system. The system is nearly 70 years old and they probably add thousands of people each day. My question is, will they run out of numbers in 10 to 15 years?

-- Dave from Arkansas

As you say, the SSA is loaded with numbers, though few have dollar signs in front of them. At the rate we're adding bodies to the U.S. population (net gain of 12 per second, according to the Census Bureau), we will run out of Social Security numbers on maybe a Wedndesday afternoon the second week of January of 2122. Numbers are assigned in three groups of three digits, four digits, and four digits. If all digits were available to be assigned, we'd have a pool of 1 billion. But since no group can consist of all zeroes, we're down to 988,911,099. If we subtract the current U.S. population from that (on the faulty assumption that everyone in the U.S. has a Social Security number), it will take a little over 117 years to use up the rest, perhaps outliving the system itself. Much more interesting, though, according to the SSA, is the fact that the first person to apply for a Social Security number back in 1936 died before he was eligible for benefits. An omen.

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