United States

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For alternative meanings, see the disambiguation page for US, USA, United States, or American.

The United States of America is a federal democratic republic situated primarily in central North America. It comprises 50 states and one federal district, and has several territories. It is also referred to, with varying formality, as the United States, the U.S., the U.S.A., the States, or simply and most commonly, America.

United States of America
Image:Flag of the United States.svg Image:Great Seal of the US.png
Flag Coat of Arms
Motto:
E pluribus unum (1789 to present)
(Latin: "Out of Many, One")
In God We Trust (1956 to present)
Anthem: The Star-Spangled Banner
Image:LocationUSA.png
Capital Washington, D.C.
square miles 9,631,418) 38°53′ N 77°02′ W
Largest city New York City
Official languages None at federal level;
American English de facto
Government Federal republic
George W. Bush (R)
Dick Cheney (R)
Independence
 • Declared
 • Recognized

Constitution
 • Completed
 • Ratified
 • Effective

From Great Britain
July 4, 1776
September 3, 1783


September 17, 1787
May 23, 1788
March 4, 1789

Area
 • Total
 • Water (%)
 
3,718,711 square miles 9,631,418 km² (3rd)
4.87%
Population
 • 2005 est.
 • 2000 census

 • Density
 
297,700,000 (3rd)
281,421,906

32/km² (140th)
GDP (PPP)
 • Total
 • Per capita
2005 estimate
$12,589,600 million (1st)
$42,367 (3rd)
HDI (2003) 0.944 (10th) – high
Currency Dollar ($) (USD)
Time zone
 • Summer (DST)
(UTC-5 to -10)
(UTC-4 to -10)
Internet TLD .us .gov .edu .mil .um
Calling code +1

The official founding date of the United States is July 4, 1776, when the Second Continental Congress—representing thirteen British colonies—adopted the Declaration of Independence. However, the structure of the government was profoundly changed in 1788, when the states replaced the Articles of Confederation with the United States Constitution. The date on which each of the fifty states adopted the Constitution is typically regarded as the date that state "entered the Union" (became part of the United States). Since the mid-20th century, following World War II, the United States has emerged as a dominant global influence in economic, political, military, scientific, technological, and cultural affairs.

Contents

Geography and climate

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The United States shares land borders with Canada (to the north) and Mexico (to the south), and territorial water boundaries with Canada, Russia, the Bahamas, and numerous smaller nations. It is otherwise bounded by the Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea, in the west; the Arctic Ocean, in the northernmost areas; and the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea, in the eastern and southeastern areas.

Forty-eight of the states are in the single region between Canada and Mexico; this group is referred to, with varying precision and formality, as the continental or contiguous United States, sometimes abbreviated CONUS, and as the Lower 48. Alaska, which is not included in the term contiguous United States, is at the northwestern end of North America, separated from the Lower 48 by Canada. The archipelago of Hawaii is in the Pacific Ocean. The capital city, Washington, District of Columbia is a federal district located on land donated by the state of Maryland. (Virginia also donated land, but it was returned in 1847.) The United States also has overseas territories with varying levels of independence and organization.

When inland water is included in the total area, only Russia and Canada are larger than the United States; if inland water is excluded, China ranks third and the U.S. ranks fourth. The United States' total area is 3,718,711 square miles (9,631,418 km²), of which land makes up 3,537,438 square miles (9,161,923 km²) and water makes up 181,273 square miles (469,495 km²).

The United States' landscape is one of the most varied among those of the world's nations: among its many features are temperate forestland and rolling hills, on the east coast; mangrove, in Florida; the Great Plains, in the center of the country; the MississippiMissouri river system; the Great Lakes, four of the five of which are shared with Canada; the Rocky Mountains, west of the Great Plains; deserts and temperate coastal zones, west of the Rocky Mountains; and temperate rain forests, in the Pacific northwest. Alaska's tundra, and the volcanic, tropical islands of Hawaii add to the geographic diversity. Image:Grand Canyon from Moran Point.jpeg The climate varies along with the landscape, from tropical in Hawaii and southern Florida to tundra in Alaska and atop some of the highest mountains. Most of the North and East experience a temperate continental climate, with warm summers and cold winters. Most of the South experiences a subtropical humid climate with mild winters and long, hot, humid summers. Rainfall decreases markedly from the humid forests of the Eastern Great Plains to the semi-arid shortgrass prairies on the high plains abutting the Rocky Mountains. Arid deserts, including the Mojave, extend through the lowlands and valleys of the southwest, from westernmost Texas to California and northward throughout much of Nevada. Some parts of California have a Mediterranean climate. Rainforests line the windward mountains of the Pacific Northwest from Oregon to Alaska.

History

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American history started with the migration of people from Asia across the Bering land bridge approximately 12,000 years ago following large animals that they hunted into the Americas. These Native Americans left evidence of their presence in petroglyphs, burial mounds, and other artifacts. It is estimated that 2-9 million people lived in the territory now occupied by the U.S. before European contact, and the subsequent introduction of foreign diseases such as small pox that greatly diminished the native populations. Some advanced societies were the Anasazi of the southwest, who inhabited Chaco Canyon, and the Woodland Indians, who built Cahokia, located near present-day St Louis, a city with a population of 40,000 at its peak in AD 1200.

Vikings first visited North America around 1000, but did not settle permanently. Following the discovery voyages of Christopher Columbus around 1492, other Europeans began to explore and settle there.

During the 1500s and 1600s, the Spanish settled parts of the present-day Southwest and Florida, founding St. Augustine, Florida in 1565 and Santa Fe (in what is now New Mexico) in 1607. The first successful English settlement was at Jamestown, Virginia, also in 1607. Within the next two decades, several Dutch settlements, including New Amsterdam (the predecessor to New York City), were established in what are now the states of New York and New Jersey. In 1637, Sweden established a colony at Fort Christina (in what is now Delaware), but lost the settlement to the Dutch in 1655.

This was followed by extensive British settlement of the east coast. The British colonists remained relatively undisturbed by their home country until after the French and Indian War, when France ceded Canada and the Great Lakes region to Britain. Britain then imposed taxes on the 13 colonies, widely regarded by the colonists as unfair because they were denied representation in the British Parliament. Tensions between Britain and the colonists increased, and the thirteen colonies eventually rebelled against British rule.

Image:George-Washington.jpg In 1776, the 13 colonies split from Great Britain and formed the United States, the world's first constitutional and democratic federal republic, after their Declaration of Independence of that year, and the Revolutionary War (1775 to 1783). The original political structure was a confederation in 1777, ratified in 1781 as the Articles of Confederation. After long debate, this was supplanted by the Constitution in 1789, forming a more centralized federal government. Prior to all these was the Albany Congress in 1754, in which a union was first seriously proposed.

From early colonial times, there was a shortage of labor, which encouraged unfree labor, particularly indentured servitude and slavery. In the mid-19th century, a major division occurred in the United States over the issue of states' rights and the expansion of slavery. The northern states had become opposed to slavery, while the southern states saw it as necessary for the continued success of southern agriculture and wanted it expanded to the territories. Several federal laws were passed in an attempt to settle the dispute, including the Missouri Compromise and the Compromise of 1850. The dispute reached a crisis in 1861, when seven southern states seceded1 from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America, leading to the Civil War. Soon after the war began, four more southern states seceded. During the war, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, mandating the freedom of all slaves in states in rebellion, though full emancipation did not take place until after the end of the war in 1865, the dissolution of the Confederacy, and the Thirteenth Amendment took effect. The Civil War effectively ended the question of a state's right to secede, and is widely accepted as a major turning point after which the federal government became more powerful than state governments.

Image:Westward the Course of Empire.jpg

During the 19th century, many new states were added to the original 13 as the nation expanded across the continent. Manifest Destiny was a philosophy that encouraged westward expansion in the United States. As the population of the Eastern states grew and as a steady increase of immigrants entered the country, settlers moved steadily westward across North America. In the process, the U.S. displaced most American Indian nations. This displacement of American Indians continues to be a matter of contention in the U.S. with many tribes attempting to assert their original claims to various lands. In some areas American Indian populations were reduced by foreign diseases contracted through contact with European settlers, and US settlers acquired those emptied lands. In other instances American Indians were removed from their traditional lands by force. Though some would say the U.S. was not a colonial power until the Spanish-American War when it acquired Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines, the dominion exercised over land in North America the United States claimed is essentially colonial. The Philippines became independent in 1946.

During this period, the nation also became an industrial power. This continued into the 20th century, which has been termed "the American Century" because of the nation's overriding influence on the world. The US became a center for innovation and technological development; major technologies that America either developed or was greatly involved in improving include the telephone, television, computer, the Internet, nuclear weapons, nuclear power, aviation, and aeronautics.

In addition to the Civil War, another major traumatic experience for the nation was the Great Depression (1929 to 1939). The nation has also taken part in several major foreign wars, including World War I and World War II (in both of which the US later joined the Allies). During the Cold War, the US was a major player in the Korean War and Vietnam War, and, along with the Soviet Union, was considered one of the world's two "superpowers". With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US emerged as the world's leading economic and military power. Beginning in the 1990s, the United States became very involved in police actions and peacekeeping, including actions in Kosovo, Haiti, Somalia and Liberia, and the first Persian Gulf War driving Iraq out of Kuwait. After attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, the United States and other allied nations found themselves involved in what has come to be called the "War on Terrorism," which has primarily encompassed military actions in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

Government

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Image:Constitution.jpg

Republic and suffrage

The United States is an example of a constitutional republic, with a government composed of and operating through a set of limited powers imposed by its design and enumerated in the United States Constitution. Specifically, the nation operates as a presidential democracy. There are three levels of government: federal, state, and local. Officials of each of these levels are either elected by eligible voters via secret ballot or appointed by other elected officials. Americans enjoy almost universal suffrage from the age of 18 regardless of race, sex, or wealth. There are some limits, however: felons are disenfranchised and in some states former felons are likewise. Furthermore, the national representation of territories and the federal district of Washington, DC in Congress is limited: residents of the District of Columbia are subject to federal laws and federal taxes but their only Congressional representative is a non-voting delegate.

Federal government

The federal government is the national government, comprising the Legislative Branch (led by Congress), the Executive Branch (led by the President), and the Judicial Branch (led by the Supreme Court). These three branches were designed to apply checks and balances on each other. The Constitution limits the powers of the federal government to defense, foreign affairs, the issuing and management of currency, the management of trade and relations between the states, and the protection of human rights. In addition to these explicitly stated powers, the federal government—with the assistance of the Supreme Court—has gradually extended these powers into such areas as welfare and education, on the basis of the "necessary and proper" clause of the Constitution.

The Congress

Image:Uscongress.gif The Congress of the United States is the legislative branch of the federal government of the United States. It is bicameral, comprising the House of Representatives and the Senate. The House of Representatives consists of 435 members, each of whom represents a congressional district and serves for a two-year term. House seats are apportioned among the states by population; in contrast, each state has two Senators, regardless of population. There are a total of 100 senators, who serve six-year terms. The powers of Congress are limited to those enumerated in the Constitution; all other powers are reserved to the states and the people. The Constitution also includes the necessary-and-proper clause, which grants Congress the power to "make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers."

The President

Image:USPresidentialSeal.jpg At the top level of the executive branch is the President of the United States. The President and Vice-President are elected as 'running mates' for four-year terms by the Electoral College, for which each state, as well as the District of Columbia, is allocated a number of seats based on its representation (or ostensible representation, in the case of D. C.) in both houses of Congress (see U.S. Electoral College). The relationship between the President and the Congress reflects that between the English monarchy and parliament at the time of the framing of the United States Constitution. Congress can legislate to constrain the President's executive power, even with respect to his or her command of the armed forces; however, this power is used only very rarely—a notable example was the constraint placed on President Richard Nixon's strategy of bombing Cambodia during the Vietnam War. The President cannot directly propose legislation, and must rely on supporters in Congress to promote his or her legislative agenda. The President's signature is required to turn congressional bills into law; in this respect, the President has the power—only occasionally used—to veto congressional legislation. Congress can override a presidential veto with a two-thirds majority vote in both houses. The ultimate power of Congress over the President is that of impeachment or removal of the elected President through a House vote, a Senate trial, and a Senate vote. The threat of using this power has had major political ramifications in the cases of Presidents Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton.

The President makes around 2,000 executive appointments, including members of the Cabinet and ambassadors, which must be approved by the Senate; the President can also issue executive orders and pardons, and has other Constitutional duties, among them the requirement to give a State of the Union address to Congress once a year. Although the President's constitutional role may appear to be constrained, in practice, the office carries enormous prestige that typically eclipses the power of Congress: the Presidency has justifiably been referred to as 'the most powerful office in the world'. The Vice President is first in the line of succession, and is the President of the Senate ex officio, with the ability to cast a tie-breaking vote. The members of the President's Cabinet are responsible for administering the various departments of state, including the Department of Defense, the Justice Department, and the State Department. These departments and department heads have considerable regulatory and political power, and it is they who are responsible for executing federal laws and regulations. George W. Bush is the 43rd President, currently serving his second term.

The Courts

Image:Seal of the United States Supreme Court.png

The highest court is the Supreme Court, which consists of nine justices. The court deals with federal and constitutional matters, and can declare legislation made at any level of the government as unconstitutional, nullifying the law and creating precedent for future law and decisions. Below the Supreme Court are the courts of appeals, and below them in turn are the district courts, which are the general trial courts for federal law. Separate from, but not entirely independent of, this federal court system are the individual court systems of each state, each dealing with its own laws and having its own judicial rules and procedures. A case may be appealed from a state court to a federal court only if there is a federal question; the supreme court of each state is the final authority on the interpretation of that state's laws and constitution.

State and local governments

Image:Map of USA with county outlines.png The state governments have the greatest influence over people's daily lives. Each state has its own written constitution and has different laws. There are sometimes great differences in law and procedure between the different states, concerning issues such as property, crime, health, and education. The highest elected official of each state is the Governor. Each state also has an elected legislature (bicameral in every state except Nebraska), whose members represent the different parts of the state. Of note is the New Hampshire legislature, which is the third-largest legislative body in the English-speaking world, and has one representative for every 3,000 people. Each state maintains its own judiciary, with the lowest level typically being county courts, and culminating in each state supreme court, though sometimes named differently. In some states, supreme and lower court justices are elected by the people; in others, they are appointed, as they are in the federal system.

The institutions that are responsible for local government are typically town, city, or county boards, making laws that affect their particular area. These laws concern issues such as traffic, the sale of alcohol, and keeping animals. The highest elected official of a town or city is usually the mayor. In New England, towns operate directly democratically, and in some states, such as Rhode Island and Connecticut, counties have little or no power, existing only as geographic distinctions. In other areas, county governments have more power, such as to collect taxes and maintain law enforcement agencies.

Political divisions

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}} With the Declaration of Independence, the thirteen colonies proclaimed themselves to be nation states modeled after the European states of the time. Although considered as sovereigns initially, under the Articles of Confederation of 1781 they entered into a "Perpetual Union" and created a fully sovereign federal state, delegating certain powers to the national Congress, including the right to engage in diplomatic relations and to levy war, while each retaining their individual sovereignty, freedom and independence. But the national government proved too ineffective, so the administrative structure of the government was vastly reorganized with the United States Constitution of 1789. Under this new union, the continued status of the individual states as sovereign nation states fell into dispute in 1861, as several states attempted to secede from the union; in response, then-President Abraham Lincoln claimed that such secession was illegal, and the result was the American Civil War. Since the Union victory in 1865, the independent status of the individual states has not been broached again by any state, and the status of each state within the union has been deemed by mainstream officials and academics to be settled as being subordinate to the union as a whole.

In subsequent years, the number of states grew steadily due to western expansion, the purchase of lands by the national government from other nation states, and the subdivision of existing states, resulting in the current total of 50. The states are generally divided into smaller administrative regions, including counties, cities and townships.

The United States–Canadian border is the longest undefended political boundary in the world. The U.S. is divided into three distinct sections:

The United States also holds several other territories, districts, and possessions, notably the federal district of the District of Columbia, which is the nation's capital, and several overseas insular areas, the most significant of which are American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the United States Virgin Islands. The Palmyra Atoll is the United States' only incorporated territory; it is unorganized and uninhabited.

The United States Navy has held a base at a portion of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, since 1898. The United States government possesses a lease to this land, which only mutual agreement or United States abandonment of the area can terminate. The present Cuban government of Fidel Castro disputes this arrangement, claiming Cuba was not truly sovereign at the time of the signing. The United States argues this point moot because Cuba apparently ratified the lease post-revolution, and with full sovereignty, when it cashed one rent check in accordance with the disputed treaty.

Political divisions of the United States Image:Flag of the United States.svg
States Alabama | Alaska | Arizona | Arkansas | California | Colorado | Connecticut | Delaware | Florida | Georgia | Hawaii | Idaho | Illinois | Indiana | Iowa | Kansas | Kentucky | Louisiana | Maine | Maryland | Massachusetts | Michigan | Minnesota | Mississippi | Missouri | Montana | Nebraska | Nevada | New Hampshire | New Jersey | New Mexico | New York | North Carolina | North Dakota | Ohio | Oklahoma | Oregon | Pennsylvania | Rhode Island | South Carolina | South Dakota | Tennessee | Texas | Utah | Vermont | Virginia | Washington | West Virginia | Wisconsin | Wyoming
Federal district District of Columbia
Insular areas American Samoa | Baker Island | Guam | Howland Island | Jarvis Island | Johnston Atoll | Kingman Reef | Midway Atoll | Navassa Island | Northern Mariana Islands | Palmyra Atoll | Puerto Rico | Virgin Islands | Wake Island

Foreign relations and military

Image:Statue-of-liberty tysto.jpg

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The immense military and economic dominance of the United States has made foreign relations an especially important topic in its politics, with considerable concern about the image of the United States throughout the world. Reactions towards the United States by other nationalities are often strong, ranging from uninhibited admiration and mimicking of all things American to anti-Americanism. US foreign policy has swung about several times over the course of its history between the poles of strict isolationism and imperialism and everywhere in between.

Three of the nation's four military branches are administered by the Department of Defense: the Army, the Navy (including the Marine Corps), and the Air Force. The Coast Guard falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security in peacetime, but is placed under the Department of the Navy in time of war.

The combined United States armed forces consist of 1.4 million active duty personnel, along with several hundred thousand each in the Reserves and the National Guard. Military conscription ended in 1973. The United States Armed forces are considered to be the most powerful military (of any sort) on Earth and their force projection capabilities are unrivaled by any other nation.

The 2005 defense budget amounted to $401.7 billion, which is an increase of 4% over 2004 and of 35% since 2001. Over 50% of that number is spent in research & development.

(For comparison, in 2004 the European Union (considered as the second-largest military force) had a combined total of 1.6 million troops, and a defense budget of €160 billion, with less than 10% of that being spent on R&D.)


Largest cities

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Image:Panorama clip3.jpg
Image:DowntownLosAngeles.jpg
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The United States has dozens of major cities, including 11 of the 55 global cities of all types — with three "alpha" global cities: New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago. The figures expressed below are for populations within city limits. A different ranking is evident when considering U.S. metro area populations, although the top three would be unchanged. Note that some cities not listed (such as Atlanta, Boston, Las Vegas, Miami, Nashville, New Orleans, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.) are still considered important on the basis of other factors and issues, including culture, economics, heritage, and politics. The twenty largest cities, based on the United States Census Bureau's 2004 estimates, are as follows:

# City Population Region
1. New York City, New York 8,104,079 Northeast
2. Los Angeles, California 3,845,541 Pacific-West
3. Chicago, Illinois 2,862,244 Great Lakes
4. Houston, Texas 2,012,626 South-Central
5. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1,470,151 Northeast
6. Phoenix, Arizona 1,418,041 Southwest
7. San Diego, California 1,263,756 Pacific-West
8. San Antonio, Texas 1,236,249 South-Central
9. Dallas, Texas 1,210,393 South-Central
10. San José, California 904,522 Pacific-West
11. Detroit, Michigan 900,198 Great Lakes
12. Indianapolis, Indiana 784,242 Midwest
13. Jacksonville, Florida 777,704 Southeast
14. San Francisco, California 744,230 Pacific-West
15. Columbus, Ohio 730,008 Midwest
16. Austin, Texas 681,804 South-Central
17. Memphis, Tennessee 671,929 South
18. Baltimore, Maryland 636,251 Mid-Atlantic
19. Fort Worth, Texas 603,337 South-Central
20. Charlotte, North Carolina 594,359 South-Atlantic


Economy

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}} The United States has the largest single-country economy in the world, with a per-capita gross domestic product of $40,100. In this market-oriented economy, private individuals and business firms make most of the decisions, and the federal and state governments buy needed goods and services predominantly in the private marketplace. Image:US $1 obverse.jpg The largest industry of the U.S. is now service, which employs roughly three quarters of the U.S. work force. The United States has many natural resources, including oil and gas, metals, and such minerals as gold, soda ash, and zinc. In agriculture, the U.S. is a top producer of, among other crops, corn, soy beans, and wheat; the United States is a net exporter of food. The U.S. manufacturing sector produces goods such as, cars, airplanes, steel, and electronics, among many others.

Economic activity varies greatly from one part of the country to another, with many industries being largely dependent on a certain city or region; New York City is the center of the American financial, publishing, broadcasting, and advertising industries; Silicon Valley is the country’s primary location for high-technology companies, while Los Angeles is the most important center for film production. The Midwest is known for its reliance on manufacturing and heavy industry, with Detroit, Michigan, serving as the center of the American automotive industry; the Great Plains are known as the "breadbasket" of America for their tremendous agricultural output; the intermountain region serves as a mining hub and natural gas resource; the Pacific Northwest for fish and timber, while Texas is largely associated with the oil industry; the Southeast is a major hub for both medical research and the textiles industry.

Several countries continue to link their currency to the dollar or even use it as a currency (such as Ecuador), although this practice has subsided since the collapse of the Bretton Woods system. Many markets are also quoted in dollars, such as those of oil and gold. The dollar is also the predominant reserve currency in the world, and more than half of global reserves are in dollars.

The largest trading partner of the United States is Canada (19%), followed by China (12%), Mexico (11%), and Japan (8%). More than 50% of total trade is with these four countries.

In 2003, the United States was ranked as the third most visited tourist destination in the world; its 40,400,000 visitors ranked behind France's 75,000,000 and Spain's 52,500,000.

Labor unions have existed since the 19th century, and grew large and powerful from the 1930s to the 1950s. See Labor history of the United States. Since 1970 they have shrunk in the private sector and now cover fewer than 8% of the workers. However union membership has grown rapidly in the public sector, especially among teachers, nurses, police, postal workers, and municipal clerks. There have been few strikes in recent years.

The United States' imports exceed exports by 80%, leading to an annual trade deficit of $700,000,000,000, or 6% of gross domestic product. It is the largest debtor nation in the world, with total gross foreign debt of over $13,000,000,000,000 (2005 estimate); and it absorbs more than 50% of global savings annually.

Since the 1980s, the U.S. has increased the use of neoliberal economic policies that reduce government intervention and reduce the size of the welfare state, backing away from the more interventionist Keynsian economic policies that had been in favor since the Great Depression. As a result, the United States provides fewer government-delivered social welfare services than most industrialized nations, choosing instead to keep its tax burden lower and relying more heavily on the free market and private charities.

Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have minimum wages higher than the national level ($5.15 per-hour), including the highest, Washington State at $7.35. Twenty-six states are the same as the federal level; two--Ohio and Kansas--are below; and six do not have state laws.

America's wealth is relatively highly concentrated. The average C.E.O. earns 500 times the typical amount a worker grosses, this is up from 25 times in the late 1970s. In terms of wealth the top 1% of Americans own 40% of all assets and 50.1% of the country's income goes to the top twenty percent of households. Average wages for the majority of employees have been largely stagnating since the 1970s.

America's poverty line defined as a family of four earning less than $19,157 is at 12.7% of the general population. Approximately one out of every five children in the United States grows up below the official poverty line. Among racial groups; African Americans have the lowest median income while Asians had the highest. Regionally, the southern states had the lowest median incomes while the West Coast and New England had the highest. The current Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan remarked that the U.S.’s growing income inequality since the 1970s is, "not the type of thing which a democratic society - a capitalist democratic society - can really accept without addressing."[1] However, Greenspan also noted, "...you can look at the system and say it's got a lot of problems to it, and sure it does. It always has. But you can't get around the fact that this is the most extraordinarily successful economy in history."

Transportation

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Because the United States is a relatively young nation, most of the development of U.S. cities has taken place since the invention of the automobile. To link its vast territory, the United States built a network of high-capacity, high-speed highways, of which the most important element is the Interstate Highway system, commissioned in the 1950s by President Dwight D. Eisenhower and modeled after the German Autobahn. The United States also has a transcontinental rail system, which is used for moving freight across the lower forty-eight states. Passenger rail service is provided by Amtrak, which serves forty-six of the lower forty-eight states.

Many cities in the United States have extensive mass-transit systems. New York City operates one of the world's largest and most heavily used subway systems. The regional rail and bus networks that extend into Long Island, New Jersey, Upstate New York, and Connecticut are among the most heavily used in the world.

Air travel is often preferred for destinations over 300 miles (500 kilometers) away. In terms of passengers, seventeen of the world's thirty busiest airports in 2004 were in the U.S., including the world's busiest, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport; in terms of cargo, in the same year, twelve of the world's thirty busiest airports were in the U.S., including the world's busiest, Memphis International Airport. There are several major seaports in the United States; the three busiest are the Port of Los Angeles, California; the Port of Long Beach, California; and the Port of New York and New Jersey. Others include Houston, Texas; Charleston, South Carolina; Savannah, Georgia; Miami, Florida; Portland, Oregon; San Francisco, California; Boston, Massachusetts; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Seattle, Washington; plus, outside the contiguous forty-eight states, Anchorage, Alaska, and Honolulu, Hawaii.

Society

Demographics

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The mean center of the U.S. population continues to drift farther west and south. The fastest growing region is the western United States followed by the southern portion. According to Census 2000, the states that saw the greatest increases from 1990 were: Nevada (66.3%), Arizona (40%), Colorado (30.6%), Utah (29.6%), Idaho (28.5%), Georgia (26.4%), Florida (23.5%), Texas (22.8%), North Carolina (21.4%), and Washington (21.1%). [2]

Ethnicity and race

Main article: Racial demographics of the United States

The United States is a very racially diverse country. According to the 2000 census, it has 31 ethnic groups with at least one million members each, and numerous others represented in smaller amounts.

The majority of Americans descend from white European immigrants who arrived at the establishment of the first colonies (most after Reconstruction). This majority--69.1% in 2000--decreases each year, and is expected to become a plurality within a few decades. The most frequently stated European ancestries are German (15.2%), Irish (10.8%), English (8.7%), Italian (5.6%) and Scandinavian (3.7%). Many immigrants also hail from Slavic countries such as Poland and Russia. Other significant immigrant populations came from eastern and southern Europe and French Canada.

Image:Census-2000-Data-Top-US-Ancestries.jpg Hispanics from Mexico and South and Central America are the largest minority group in the country, comprising 12.5% of the population (2000 census). People of Mexican descent made up 7.3% of the population in the 2000 census, and this proportion is expected to increase significantly in the coming decades.

About 12.3% (2000 census) of the American people are African Americans (Blacks). African Americans are spread throughout the country, but their presence is largest in the South.

Asian Americans--including Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders--are a third significant minority (3.7% of the population in 2000). Most Asian Americans are concentrated on the West Coast and Hawaii. The largest groups are immigrants or descendants of emigrants from the Philippines, China, India, Vietnam, South Korea, and Japan.

Indigenous peoples in the United States, such as American Indians and Inuit, make up 0.9% of the population (2000 census). About 35% live on Indian reservations.


Religion

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Polls estimate that just under 80 percent of Americans are Christians of various denominations. The other 20 percent comprises other religions such as Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism, other various faiths, and those without a specific religion.

The United States is noteworthy among developed nations for its relatively high level of religiosity. According to a 2004 Gallup poll, about 44% of Americans attend a religious service at least once a week. However, this rate is not uniform across the country; attendance is more common in the Bible Belt—composed largely of Southern and Midwestern states—than in the Northeast and West Coast. In the Southern states, Baptists are the largest group, followed by Methodists; Roman Catholics are dominant in the Northeast and in large parts of the Midwest due to their being settled by descendants of Catholic immigrants from Europe (such as Germany, Ireland, Italy, and Poland) or other parts of North America (mainly Quebec and Puerto Rico). The rest of the country for the most part has a complex mixture of various Christian groups.

Education

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In the United States, education is a state, not federal, responsibility, and the laws and standards vary considerably. However, the federal government, through the Department of Education, is involved with funding of some programs and exerts some influence through its ability to control funding. In most states, all students must attend mandatory schooling starting with kindergarten, which children normally enter at age 5, and following through 12th grade, which is normally completed at age 18 (although in some states, students are permitted to drop out upon the age of 16 with the permission of their parents/guardians). Parents may educate their own children at home (with varying degrees of state oversight), send their children to a public school, which is funded with tax money, or to a private school, where parents must pay tuition. Public schools are highly decentralized with funding and curriculum decisions taking place mostly at the local level through school boards.

After high school, students may choose to continue their schooling at a public/state university or a private university. Public universities receive funding from the federal and state government but students still pay tuition, which can vary depending on the university, state, and whether the student is a resident of the state or not. Tuition at private universities tends to be much higher than at public universities. It is not uncommon for students to join the workforce or the military before attending college; both the military and many private employers may subsidize post-secondary education.

American colleges and universities range from highly competitive schools, both private (such as Harvard University and Princeton University) and public (such as the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Virginia), to hundreds of high-quality local community colleges with open admission policies. There is also a subgroup of sociology/anthropology popular in American colleges and universities today called American studies.

Language

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The United States does not have an official language at the federal level; nevertheless, American English is the first and/or only language of the overwhelming majority of the population and serves as the de facto official language: English is the language used for legislation, regulations, executive orders, treaties, federal court rulings, and all other official pronouncements.

Twenty-seven individual states have adopted English as their official language, and three of those—Hawaii, Louisiana, and New Mexico—have also adopted a second official language (Hawaiian, French and Spanish, respectively). Spanish follows English as the second-most spoken language in the United States, primarily due to the influence of recent Latin American immigrants, and it is a primary spoken language in some areas of the Southwest. Puerto Rico's first language is Spanish, and while it is a US commonwealth and not a state, its citizens have similar rights and their migration has a significant linguistic impact on New York State and other areas.

The primary signed language is American Sign Language (ASL).

As of 2004, the United States was the home of approximately 336 languages (spoken or signed), of which 176 are indigenous to U.S. territory.

Culture

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U.S. popular culture has a significant influence on the rest of the world, especially the Western world. U.S. music is heard all over the world, and it is the sire of such forms as blues and jazz and had a primary hand in the shaping of modern rock and roll and popular music culture. Many great Western classical musicians and ensembles find their home in the U.S. New York City is a hub for international operatic and instrumental music as well as the world-famed Broadway plays and musicals, Seattle is a world leader in the grunge and heavy metal music industries, and Nashville is the capital of country music. Another export of the last 20 years is hip hop music, which is growing in influence and branching into the fashion, food and drink and movie industries. New York, Seattle, and San Francisco are worldwide leaders in graphic design and New York and Los Angeles compete with major European cities in the fashion industry.

U.S. movies (primarily embodied in Hollywood) and television shows can be seen almost anywhere except the most totalitarian places. This is in stark contrast to the early days of the republic, when the country was viewed by Europeans as an agricultural backwater with little to offer the culturally advanced world centers of Asia and Europe. Image:Motherhood and apple pie.jpg Nearing the mid-point of its third century of nationhood, the U.S. plays host to the gamut of human intellectual and artistic endeavor in nearly every major city, offering classical and popular music; historical, scientific and art research centers and museums; dance performances, musicals and plays; outdoor art projects and internationally significant architecture. This development is a result of both contributions by private philanthropists and government funding.

American holidays are variously national and local. Many holidays recognize events or people of importance to the nation's history; as such, they represent significant cultural observance.

Sports

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The major team sports in America are home-grown. American football, baseball (often called "The National Pastime"), auto racing (especially NASCAR), and basketball, are the top four main sports in America. Ice hockey is also popular in the U.S., especially in Minnesota and the eastern U.S. Soccer does not have a particularly large following in the U.S. (in contrast to its extreme popularity in most other countries), but nevertheless, the U.S. did host the World Cup in 1994. Soccer continues to grow in the U.S., and is currently one of the most played sports amongst youth. The majority of the world's highest paid athletes play team sports in America [3].

The United States also hosts large followings of traditional European sporting events. Horse racing is popular in the United States as a gambling event, and the United States hosts several world renowned horse racing events, including the Kentucky Derby. Also, sailboat racing frequently attracts national attention, especially during the America's Cup. Other European sports such as polo have minor leagues.

Image:NASCAR practice.jpg

The United States hosts some of the premier events in other sports such as golf (including three of the four major championships), and tennis (the U.S. Open). The most popular form of auto racing is NASCAR. Formula One, while dominant in the rest of the world, has only made limited inroads into the U.S. market. The only Formula One event currently in the U.S. is the United States Grand Prix. However, the visually similar Indy 500 is the nation's most famous racing event, and both the U.S. Grand Prix and the Indy 500 currently take place at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

In the 20th century, the United States became the center of the two most popular Western combat sports - boxing and wrestling. Boxing is popular as both a spectator sport and a gambling event. The United States has produced many famous boxers who have become public figures in their own right, such as Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson. Boxing remains a violent but respected sport in the American consciousness. By contrast, the United States has contributed immensely to the popularity of the mostly theatrical professional wrestling. Professional wrestling is widely popular in America, but is considered mainly a form of scripted entertainment rather than a true sport. Other combat sports based on Asian martial arts, such as karate competitions, maintain large national leagues and hold frequent competitions.

The United States is also credited in creating the three popular board-based recreational sports - surfboarding, skateboarding and snowboarding. While first practiced by native Hawaiians, Americans were almost solely responsible for creating surfboarding's worldwide popularity. Skateboarding and snowboarding are completely modern American inventions, and all three have given rise to national competitions and a large dedicated subculture. Snowboarding is the only one of the three to become Olympic event, beginning with the Winter Olympics in 1998.

Eight Olympic Games have been hosted in the U.S., more than in any other nation. The United States generally fares very well in the Olympics, especially the Summer Olympics: in 2004, the U.S. topped the medals table with a record 103 medals (35 gold, 39 silver and 29 bronze). For details see United States at the Olympics.

During times of extreme popularity teams have been (unofficially) crowned "America's team." The New York Yankees, The Chicago Bulls, and the Dallas Cowboys are examples of teams that have reached this status.

American college sports are nearly as popular as professional sports, particularly college football and college basketball. American colleges often support wide-ranging sports programs, including track and field and more eclectic sports such as water polo, as well as the more popular sports such as football and baseball.

Related topics

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Topics in the United States
History Timeline ( Colonial Era | American Revolution | Westward Expansion | Civil War | World War I | Great Depression | World War II | Cold War | Vietnam War | Civil Rights) | Foreign relations | Military | Demographic and Postal history
Politics Law ( Constitution and Bill of Rights | Declaration of Independence) | Political parties ( Democrats & Republicans) | Elections (Electoral College) | Political scandals | Political divisions | Red state vs. blue state divide
Government Federal agencies | Legislative branch (Congress: House | Senate) Executive branch ( President & Vice-President | Cabinet | Attorney-General | Secretary of State) | Law enforcement ( FBI | Intelligence:CIA | DIA | NIMA | NRO | NSA) | Judicial branch ( Supreme Court) | Military ( Army | Navy | Marines | Air Force | Coast Guard )
Geography Appalachian Mtns. | Rocky Mtns. | Grand Canyon | Great Plains | Midwest | The South | Mississippi River | New England | Mid-Atlantic | Pacific Northwest | Mountains | Valleys | Islands | Rivers | States | Cities | Counties | Regions | Extreme points
Economy Banking | Companies | Standard of living | U.S. Dollar | Wall Street
Demographics US Census Bureau | Languages | Religion | Social structure | Standard of living
Arts & Culture Music ( Classical | Folk | Popular) | Film & TV (Hollywood) | Literature ( Poetry | Transcendentalism | Harlem Renaissance | Beat Generation) | Visual arts ( Abstract expressionism) | Cuisine | Holidays | Folklore | Dance | Architecture | Education | Languages | Media
Other United States territory | Communications | Transportation ( Highways and Interstates | Railroads) | Uncle Sam | Flag | American Dream | Media | Education | Tourism | Social issues ( Immigration | Affirmative action | Racial profiling | Human rights | War on Drugs | Pornography | Same-sex marriage | Poverty | Prisons | Capital punishment) | American Exceptionalism | Anti-Americanism | American Folklore | American English | United States Mexico barrier

International rankings

Notes

  1. ^  America may describe the United States or the AmericasNorth, Central, and South America. The latter usage is more common in Latin American countries, where the Spanish and Portuguese word América refers to the pair of continents. United States is a less ambiguous term and less likely to cause offense. American as a noun to describe a citizen or national of the United States, and as an adjective meaning "of the United States," has no straightforward unambiguous synonym in English. Many other words for American have been proposed, but none has been widely accepted.

External links

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United States government

Other

Further reading



Geographic regions of the United States
Central | Coastal States | Deep South | East | East Coast | Gulf Coast | Mid-Atlantic | Midwest
Mountain States | New England | North | Northeast | Northwest | Pacific | South | South Atlantic
South Central | Southeast | Southwest | Upper Midwest | West | West Coast
Multinational regions: Border States | Great Lakes | Great Plains | Pacific Northwest


Group of Eight
Canada | France | Germany | Italy | Japan | Russia | United Kingdom | United States
Image:Flag of the United States.svg United States: Membership in International Organizations Image:Flag of the United States.svg
AfDB | ANZUS | APEC | ARF | AsDB | ASEAN (dialogue partner) | Australia Group | BIS | CE (observer) | CERN (observer) | CP | EAPC | EBRD | FAO | G5 | G7 | G8 | G10 | IADB | IAEA | IBRD | ICAO | ICC | ICCt (signatory) | ICFTU | ICRM | IDA | IEA | IFAD | IFC | IFRCS | IHO | ILO | IMF | IMO | Interpol | IOC | IOM | ISO | ITU | MIGA | MINUSTAH | NAM (guest) | NATO | NEA | NSG | OAS | OECD | OPCW | OSCE | Paris Club | PCA | United Nations | UN Security Council (permanent member) | UNCTAD | UNESCO | UNHCR | UNITAR | UNMEE | UNMIK | UNMIL | UNMOVIC | UNOMIG | UNRWA | UNTSO | UPU | WCL | WCO | WHO | WIPO | WMO | World Trade Organization | ZC
af:Verenigde State

als:USA ang:Geānlǣht Rīcu American ar:ولايات متحدة أمريكية an:Estatos Unitos ast:Estaos Uníos bg:Съединени американски щати zh-min-nan:Bí-kok be:Злучаныя Штаты Амэрыкі bn:যুক্তরাষ্ট্র bs:Sjedinjene Američke Države br:Stadoù-Unanet Amerika ca:Estats Units cv:Америкăри Пĕрлешӳллĕ Штатсем chr:ᎠᎺᎢ cs:Spojené státy americké cy:Unol Daleithiau America da:USA de:USA et:Ameerika Ühendriigid el:Ηνωμένες Πολιτείες es:Estados Unidos eo:Usono fa:ایالات متحده‌ امریکا fr:États-Unis d’Amérique fy:Feriene Steaten fan Amearika ga:Stáit Aontaithe Mheiriceá gd:Na Stàitean Aonaichte gl:Estados Unidos de América - United States of America ko:미국 ht:Etazini hi:संयुक्त राज्य अमेरिका hr:Sjedinjene Američke Države io:Usa ilo:Estados Unidos iti America id:Amerika Serikat ia:Statos Unite de America iu:ᐊᒥᐊᓕᑲ is:Bandaríkin it:Stati Uniti d'America he:ארצות הברית ks:संयुक्त राज्‍य अमेरिका ku:Dewletên Yekbûyî yên Emerîkayê la:Uniti Status Americae lv:Amerikas Savienotās Valstis lb:Vereenegt Staate vun Amerika lt:JAV li:Vereinegde State van Amerika hu:Amerikai Egyesült Államok mt:Stati Uniti mr:अमेरिकेची संयुक्त संस्थाने ms:Amerika Syarikat nah:Altepetl Osehsepanoaseh Amerikak nv:Wááshindoon bikéyah ałhidadiidzooígíí nl:Verenigde Staten van Amerika nds:USA ja:アメリカ合衆国 no:Amerikas forente stater nn:USA oc:Estats Units os:Америкæйы Иугонд Штаттæ pl:Stany Zjednoczone pt:Estados Unidos da América ro:Statele Unite ale Americii rm:Stadis Unids da l'America ru:Соединённые Штаты Америки se:Amerihká ovttastuvvan stáhtat sa:संयुक्त राज्‍य अमेरिका sco:Unitit States sh:Sjedinjene Američke Države scn:Stati Uniti simple:United States sk:Spojené štáty americké sl:Združene države Amerike sr:Сједињене Америчке Државе fi:Yhdysvallat sv:USA ta:ஐக்கிய அமெரிக்க குடியரசு tl:Estados Unidos th:สหรัฐอเมริกา vi:Hoa Kỳ tpi:Yunaitet Stet tr:Amerika Birleşik Devletleri uk:Сполучені Штати Америки ur:امریکہ yi:פֿאַראײניקטע שטאַטן פֿון אַמעריקע za:Meijgoz zh:美国

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