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Notch Babies

As a result of a mistake in 1972 legislation, a double adjustment windfall for inflation was enacted. If the mistake had not been corrected, it was projected that in the future Social Security retirees conceivably could have ended up actually getting paid more in monthly Social Security retirement benefits than they had earned in their entire working career. When Congress corrected the mistake in 1977, it phased in the correction over a five-year period. This resulted in people born between 1917 and 1921, the notch babies, receiving larger benefits than people born after 1921 but less than people born before 1917, who received the benefit of the technical error in the 1972 law. Many well-meaning people who did not understand the situation were under the false impression that the notch babies had been singled out for poorer treatment by the Social Security Administration and that they would be receiving lower benefits than people born before 1917 or after 1921. In fact, not only do all people born after 1916 have their benefits determined according to the same formula, but because of the way the correction was phased in, some notch babies actually received somewhat more than did people born since 1922.

Because of insufficient records, history does not tell us who actually received the first Social Security number. However, the first Social Security number account record comes from Baltimore, Maryland, where John David Sweeney of New Rochelle, New York, was assigned the first Social Security number account. John David Sweeney died in 1974 at the age of sixty-one, never having received a penny from Social Security; however, his widow received widow’s benefits for eight years until her death in 1982.

Although John David Sweeney had the first Social Security number account, he did not receive the lowest issued number. That honor goes to Grace Dorothy Owen of Concord, New Hampshire, who was assigned the easy-to-remember number 001-01-000, which, I suppose, is about as close as you can come to an unlisted number. The story of how Grace Dorothy Owen got this number is pretty interesting. The geographic area grouping of the first three digits was to originate in the New England states. You would think that they would start in Maine and work their way down. Instead, the lowest area numbers were assigned to New Hampshire so that the lowest number would be able to be given as a political honor to Social Security Board chairman and former New Hampshire governor, John G. Witant. Chairman Witant, however, refused the offer, whereupon it was then offered to John Campbell, the Federal Bureau of Old Age Benefits’ Regional Representative, who also declined to accept the honor. At this point it was determined to just give the lowest number to whomever first applied in New Hampshire; that turned out to be Grace Dorothy Owen.



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