Research & Analysis by Carolyn Puckett
During its 75-year history, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has faced many administrative challenges. This article depicts some of those challenges—involving legislative demands, staffing and workloads, infrastructure and technology, logistics and procedures, emergency response operations, and other matters—and the steps that SSA has taken to deal with them.
The use of the Social Security number (SSN) has expanded significantly since its inception in 1936. Created merely to keep track of the earnings history of U.S. workers for Social Security entitlement and benefit computation purposes, it has come to be used as a nearly universal identifier. Assigned at birth, the SSN enables other government agencies to identify individuals in their records and private industry to track an individual's financial information. This article explores the history and meaning of the SSN and the Social Security card, as well as the Social Security Administration's (SSA's) SSN master file, generally known as the Numident. The article also traces the historical expansion of SSN use and steps SSA has taken to enhance SSN integrity.
This article discusses the advantages and limitations of using administrative data for research, examines how linking administrative data to survey results can be used to evaluate and improve survey design, and discusses research studies and SSA statistical products and services that are based on administrative data.
With the death of Robert Myers Ball at age 93 on January 29, 2008, the Social Security program lost one of its most committed supporters. In 2001, Ball's biographer, historian Edward D. Berkowitz, described Ball as "the major non-Congressional player in the history of Social Security in the period between 1950 and the present."