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Declared Dead While Alive: A Story about 36,657 Errant Keystrokes

The Social Security Administration incorrectly declares thousands of Americans dead each year, as Ana Swanson reports for the Washington Post. Your death appears to happen on a micro level, so to speak. "By entering one number into the system incorrectly," Swanson writes, "a Social Security employee can bring your whole world crashing down." The number in the title of this post - 36,657 - is the number of people who were declared dead while alive from May 2007 to April 2010, according to a government audit.

There's more to the situation than being declared dead while alive. Plenty of people remain alive despite having been declared dead, too, which opens the door to fraud and abuse, as Swanson reports. She concludes her piece by advocating for the use of electronic record-keeping: "By implementing electronic reporting across the U.S., the states could almost totally eliminate the twin catastrophes of declaring the dead living and the living dead."

Whether or not that's true, being declared dead while alive by the SSA does seem to be a catastrophe for the unlucky soul to whom it happens. Swanson runs down a laundry list of problems: trouble applying for a job, being cut off from your bank accounts, finding yourself unable to rent an apartment. And it can take weeks or longer to get everything back in order, chiefly because of the "bureaucratic hoops" the living dead must jump through to prove their existence.

It doesn't sound pretty.

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