For a card that’s supposed to last your entire life, that's an incredible hassle to replace, and that you may one day need in order to secure a job or obtain a driver’s license, Social Security cards are oddly delicate. Keeping one in your wallet can really beat it up, but attempting to preserve it via lamination is frowned upon by the Social Security Administration (SSA).
It all seems like a cruel joke perpetuated by our elected officials—but there’s a reason behind it all.
The numbered cards, which were issued beginning in 1936, are intended to help the SSA track U.S. citizens and their wages to allocate retiree benefits. (A nine-digit code, the first three numbers are based on geographical location.) While they were previously made of cardboard, the agency switched to banknote paper in 1983 and still uses it today. As with currency, which uses similar paper, the material allows the SSA to implement a number of features that deter counterfeiting. The blue, marbleized background tint is erasable, making any changes to the card obvious. Intaglio print has raised lettering that can be felt by touch and is used because it is notoriously hard to replicate. Naturally, laminating the card would interfere with detecting these and other unpublicized security measures.
While the card might appear to be more sophisticated than you’d think, that’s not of much help when it emerges battered and torn from your purse or pocket. Turns out you’re not actually supposed to be carrying it around. The SSA suggests you store the card in a safe place until it’s needed. One handy tip is to keep it in a plastic sleeve meant for baseball card collectors.
If the card's lack of durability is still bothersome, you could write to the SSA requesting they re-consider one early plan: issuing numbers engraved on dog tags.