Tuesday, 10 July 2012

anti-social security

On my first full day in the States, we picked up this from the DMV:

I read it over the weekend, and then we popped back down to the DMV (Mark drove, obviously) and I presented my documents to the brow-beaten employee. As I'd literally just arrived and had little in the way of proof of residence, I also presented my husband and two proofs of his residence. Honestly, it was on the list of acceptable documents: spouse and two proofs of address.

The poor DMV employee, sitting in a fluoro-lit windowless building on a heady summer's day, sighed. He knew my case was not going to be straightforward. It should have been. I passed the theory test with full marks - so much easier than the UK equivalent and none of that hazard perception nonsense either. The employee checked out my visa, passport, spouse, his driving license, and his two proofs of address: All A-OK. The problem, however, was my social security card.

Social security numbers, invented by FDR in 1935 as part of his New Deal, are akin to UK National Insurance numbers (Bonus Fact: UK National Insurance was invented in 1911). The point, originally, was to provide welfare/insurance/benefits/pension to citizens suffering from poverty as a result of the Great Depression (1929, but you knew that).

FDR also allowed for SSNs to be used as 'governmental identifiers' of individuals, although this didn't become widespread until later in the 20th century. You can read all about this here if you're that interested.

The DMV requires presentation of a valid SSC as proof of identity. I actually have a valid SSC, but the problem is that it's in my maiden name. Even presentation of my passport, marriage certificate, spouse, his driving license and two proofs of his address wasn't going to be enough to get my PA driving permit. And we thought we'd gotten good at bureaucracy!

We boldly drove (well Mark did) across the county to the Social Security Administration. Another windowless building, where George Takei advertizes managing your benefits on a giant TV screen on a loop. Hilarious the first time, unsettling after a while. An employee helped me fill out an application for an updated card, but warned me it'd take a month to arrive. It only took 10 days to get my original card back in 2006, so I thought this was an exaggeration. It's not.

So I'm stuck in rural America without wheels.

Jack Kerouac wrote "On the Road" and not "On the Sidewalk"
The USA is designed for cars. In the 1950s shops even built parking lots over sidewalks/footpaths as inter-state highways cemented (sorry) the car as the leading form of US transport. The drive-thru boomed, not only in fast food, but also in coffee, banking, and postal services. I had hoped to hit the USA running, jumping and driving so I could start to build my new life here the moment I arrived. To be honest, this paper delay took the wind out of my sails a bit.

I do understand why I'm waiting. Identification fraud is a real concern. Journalist Jose Antonio Vargas found out he was an illegal immigrant when he went to the DMV to get his permit; it all rested on his SSC. There's also a slightly hilarious case where one poor secretary had her SSN wrongfully used by 40,000 other people. Meanwhile, Mark's happy to drive me to the local YMCA where I can run and jump for free, but the driving is a no-no until I get my new card and I can once again prove I'm me.

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