Do You Know Why Social Security Cards Are Printed On Paper?

Social Security cards. How is it that one small piece of paper defines our life, and well, at the end of the day, tells the world who we are? A Reddit user by the name of Javablog brought up a valid point when she asked other online users why Social Security cards were made out of paper, unlike our driver’s license which is made of plastic.

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If you think about it, for a card that is supposed to last you your entire life, is a hassle to replace, and one may need it to either obtain that plastic driver’s license or secure a job, Social Security cards are quite delicate. Many people try to keep it safe by laminating it and storing them in their wallet, which is actually frowned upon by the Social Security Administration. It’s all a cruel cruel joke, that we simply have to follow. Although there have been quite good guesses around the internet, (looking at you swarexs985), there is actually an explanation for the whole paper thing!

ELI5: Why are social security cards printed on regular paper? from explainlikeimfive

You see, the numbered cards are intended to help the SSA track United States citizens and their wages to allocate retiree benefits. This has been going on since they were issues in 1936. Each card has an SSN (social security number)which is the nine-digit code, all different, but the first three numbers are based on geographic location. While they were previously made of cardboard, the agency switched them up to banknote paper in 1983, which is that we still used today.

Such as with currency, the material allows the SSA to implement a number of security features that deter counterfeiting. The blue colored marbled background tint is erasable, making any changes to the card well, obvious. Intaglio print has raised letter that can be felt if you touch them, and is used because it is notoriously hard to replicate. So, laminating the card would indeed interfere with detecting these and other unpublicized security measures that the naked eye can’t catch.

While the card might not “appear” to be more sophisticated, such as your driver’s license, one of the main reasons why the paper is used is because like stated, you’re actually not supposed to be carrying around your social security card, period!  If lost, someone can easily track down who you are and ultimately take your identity. For example, with your driver’s license, there’s a date of birth, a picture, an address, defining features, and etc. So, chances of someone using that card is safe, because well, they might not have the same features as it says on the license.

With your social security card, there is no way of physically identifying you. No birthday, hair color, eyes color, you name it. Someone can easily use the card and pretend it’s you. Hence, paper cards. The reason why the SSA suggest you store the card in a safe place (like a plastic sleeve or card holder) until needed. It makes sense if you ask me, I mean, I sure don’t want to lose my identity. Do you?

This article was originally published on January 18, 2019.

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