United States

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

Template:Infobox Country The United States of America is a country situated primarily in North America. It comprises 50 states and one federal district, and has several territories with differing degrees of affiliation. It is also referred to, with varying formality, as the United States, the U.S., the U.S.A., the States, America, or (poetically) Columbia.

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. Because of its influence, the U.S. is considered a superpower and, particularly after the Cold War, a hyperpower by some.

The country celebrates its founding date as July 4, 1776, when the Second Continental Congress—representing thirteen British colonies—adopted the Declaration of Independence that rejected British authority in favor of self-determination.

The structure of the government was profoundly changed in 1789, 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" to become part of the United States.

Contents

History

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Prehistory

American history began 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 that population was diminished by European contact and the foreign diseases it brought (although both the number of Native Americans originally on the continent and the number who did not survive European immigration are open to debate). 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.

Colonization by Europe

External visitors had arrived before, but it was not until after the discovery voyages of Christopher Columbus in the late 1400s and early 1500s that European nations began to explore the land in earnest and settle there permanently. See Colonialism.

During the 1500s and 1600s, the Spanish settled parts of the present-day Southwest and Florida. 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 to pay for the war. The colonists widely resented the taxes 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.

Nationhood

In 1776, the 13 colonies Declared Independence from Great Britain and formed the United States, the world's first constitutional and democratic federal republic. The American Revolutionary War followed (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 in 1789 by the Constitution, which formed a more centralized federal government.

Civil War

From early colonial times, there was a shortage of labor, which encouraged unfree labor, particularly indentured servitude and slavery. By the mid-19th century, a major division over the issue of states' rights and the expansion of slavery came to a head.

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 newer territories in the West. 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.

Expansion

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American westward expansion is idealized in Emanuel Leutze's famous painting Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way (1861). The title of the painting, from a 1726 poem by Bishop Berkeley, was a phrase often quoted in the era of Manifest Destiny, expressing a widely held belief that civilization had steadily moved westward throughout history. (more)

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 had been 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 it acquired territories in the Spanish-American War, the dominion exercised over land in North America the United States claimed is essentially colonial.

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During this period, the nation also became an industrial power and a center for innovation and technological development.

The 20th Century

The 20th century has sometimes been termed "the American Century" because of the nation's influence on the world. Its relative influence was especially great because Europe, which had been the center of greatest influence, was largely destroyed during the world wars.

The U.S. fought in World War I and World War II on the side of the Allies. Between the wars, the most significant event was the Great Depression (1929 to 1939), which was compounded by drought and dust. Like the rest of the developed world, the U.S. was pulled out of the great depression by its mobilization for World War II.

The war left much of the developed world in ruins with the Americas largely spared. By 1950, more than half of the global economy (as measured in GNP) was located in the U.S.

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". This period coincided with a major economic expansion. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US emerged as the world's leading economic and military power.

During the 1990s, the United States became more involved in police actions and peacekeeping, including actions in Kosovo, Haiti, Somalia and Liberia, and the first Persian Gulf War.

After attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, the United States and other allied nations declared themselves involved in what has come to be called the "War on Terrorism," which has included military action in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Government

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The Constitution is the supreme law of the United States.
Main articles: Federal government of the United StatesPolitics of the United States & Law of the United States

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. Almost all electoral offices are decided in "first-past-the-post" elections, where a specific candidate who earns at least a plurality of the vote is elected to office, rather than a party being elected to a seat to which it may appoint an official. 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 comprised of 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.

Legislative Branch

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."

Executive Branch

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. Template:See 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.

Judicial Branch

The highest court is the Supreme Court, which consists of nine justices. The court deals with federal and constitutional matters, and can declare legislation or executive action 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

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United States of America, showing states, divided into counties. Note that Alaska and Hawaii are shown at different scales, and that the Aleutian Islands and the uninhabited Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are omitted from this map.
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Map of USA with state names

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. See state court for more information.

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

Main article: Political divisions of the United States

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

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Foreign relations and military

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The Statue of Liberty was a centennial gift to the United States from France. (See Franco-American relations.)
Main articles: Foreign relations of the United States & Military of the United States

The immense military and economic strength of the United States has made its foreign relations an especially important topic in international politics. Reactions towards United States foreign policy by other nationalities are often strong, ranging from admiration to fierce criticism. The same range of opinions is also found within the United States, with many Americans either supporting or strongly criticizing United States foreign policy.

Traditionally, the greatest military ally of the United States is Great Britain, though the earliest alliance the nation formed was with France (see Franco-American relations).

The military force of the United States has been decisive in more than one major foreign war, most notably World War II and, to a lesser degree, World War I.

The United States presently occupies 702 military bases worldwide in 132 different countries. The United States is currently involved in a War in Iraq, a War in Afghanistan, and an intervention in Haiti. They have also embarked upon a War on Terrorism.

The United States currently enjoys a positive relationship with the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, and Poland, among several others, in that these nations are participating as active military allies with, or logistical supporters of, the United States in all theaters. Canada, Germany, and some others, are participating in the Afghanistan theater but not in Iraq.

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) in the world, and their force projection capabilities are unrivalled. It is considered dominant on water, land, air, and space.

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. US defense expenditure is estimated to be greater than the next twelve largest national military budgets combined.

It should be noted that the United States' focus on military expenditures has ranged very broadly, due to the regularly changing ideology inherent in its political system. The American military, in terms of physical resources, is actually smaller now than it was twenty years ago, despite being larger than it was five years ago, for example.

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Geography and climate

Main article: Geography of the United States

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 state of Hawaii is an archipelago 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.

In total area (which includes inland water and land), only Russia and Canada are larger than the United States; if inland water is excluded, China ranks second, the U.S. ranks third, and Canada 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.

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The dramatic landscape of the American West: Grand Canyon from Moran Point

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.

Largest cities

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New York City, New York
File:DowntownLosAngeles.jpg
Los Angeles, California
File:Chicagoskyline2005.jpg
Chicago, Illinois

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, New Orleans, Seattle, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.) are still considered important on the basis of other factors and issues, including culture, economics, heritage, and politics. The ten largest cities, based on the United States Census Bureau's 2004 estimates, are as follows:

Rank City Population
within
city limits
Population
Density
per sq mi
Metropolitan
Area
Region
millions rank
1 New York City 8,104,079 26,402.9 18.6 1 Northeast
2 Los Angeles, California 3,845,541 7,876.8 12.8 2 Pacific-West
3 Chicago, Illinois 2,862,244 12,750.3 9.3 3 Great Lakes
4 Houston, Texas 2,012,626 3,371.7 5.0 8 South-Central
5 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1,470,151 11,233.6 5.7 4 Northeast
6 Phoenix, Arizona 1,418,041 2,782.0 3.5 14 Southwest
7 San Diego, California 1,263,756 3,771.9 2.9 17 Pacific-West
8 San Antonio, Texas 1,236,249 2,808.5 1.8 28 South-Central
9 Dallas, Texas 1,210,393 3,469.9 5.5 5 South-Central
10 San Jose, California 904,522 5,117.9 1.7 30 Pacific-West


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Economy

Main article: Economy of the United States

The United States has the largest single-country economy in the world, with a per-capita annual gross domestic product of $41,747 (as of Q2 2005 [1]). 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. This is financed via taxes and borrowings in the money market. Federal borrowings are subject to borrowing caps to theoretically prevent fiscal irresponsibilty. The cap as of 2004 stands at 8.2 trillion. (Borrowings as of November 2005 are 8.1 trillion.)

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The U.S. dollar is the national currency.

The largest industry in the U.S. is now service, which employs roughly three quarters of the 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, it is a top producer of, among other crops, corn, soy beans, and wheat; the United States is a net exporter of food. The 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 concentrated in certain cities or regions. For example, New York City is the center of the American financial, publishing, broadcasting, and advertising industries. Silicon Valley is the country's largest high technology hub, 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; and 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 million or 6% of gross domestic product. It is the largest debtor nation in the world, with total gross foreign liabilities of over $12,000,000 million as of of 2004; 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.

The United Nations Development Programme Report 2005 ranks income the United States as the 74th most equal out of 124 countries, as measured by the Gini coefficient. The richest 10% make 15.9 times as much as the poorest 10%, and the richest 20% make 8.4 times as much as the poorest 20%. (See List of countries by income equality.)

America's poverty line, defined for a family of four as an income of 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 have the highest. Regionally, the southern states have the lowest median incomes while the West Coast and New England have 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."[2] 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."

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Transportation

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Main article: Transportation in the United States

Because the United States is a relatively young nation, much 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. These highways were commissioned in the 1950s by President Dwight D. Eisenhower and modeled after the German Autobahn. There is also 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 have extensive mass-transit systems. The largest of them, New York City operates one of the world's 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 the preferred means of travel for long distances. 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

Population

Historical populations
Census
year
Population

1790 3,929,214
1800 5,308,483
1810 7,239,881
1820 9,638,453
1830 12,866,020
1840 17,069,453
1850 23,191,876
1860 31,443,321
1870 38,558,371
1880 50,189,209
1890 62,979,766
1900 76,212,168
1910 92,228,496
1920 106,021,537
1930 123,202,624
1940 132,164,569
1950 151,325,798
1960 179,323,175
1970 203,302,031
1980 226,542,199
1990 248,709,873
2000 281,421,906
File:2k night.jpg
2000 Population Distribution Map
Main article: Demographics of the United States

The mean center of the U.S. population continues to drift farther west and south. The fastest growing region is the West followed by the South. 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%). [3]

Major demographic trends include the mass immigration of Hispanics from Latin America into the Southwest; home to 21,207,659 of the country's 35,305,818 Latinos (their numbers increased 57.9% nationally in the 1990s). The West Coast has been the residence of choice for immigrating Asians, particularly from China. The West Coast is now home to approximately 5,000,000 of the nation's 10,000,000 citizens with Asian ancestry (illustrating a rise of 52.4% during the 1990s).

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.

Hispanics from Mexico and South and Central America are second only to the German-American population (15.2%). HIspanics comprise 13.5% of the population (2004 Update of the 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.

Approximately 12.9% (2000 census) of the American people designated themselves as Black or Black in combination with some other race [African American]]s. 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.

For the first time ever, American citizens were able to list all of the racial, ethnic, or ancestry groups which they felt was appropriate for them. For example, a dual ancestry person was counted in the Italian and the Irish ancestry group or a biracial person was counted in the White and Black groups.

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Religion

Main articles: Religion in the United States & Demographics of the United States#Religious Affiliation

Polls estimate that just under 80 percent of Americans are Christians of various denominations, a decline from 90 percent as recently as 1990. The other 20 percent comprises other religions such as Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, and other faiths and those without a 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

File:RotundaII.jpg
America's 19 World Heritage Sites include Thomas Jefferson's home at Monticello and the University of Virginia (original library shown above, and designed by Jefferson), the only collegiate campus on the list. Both sites are located in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Main article: Education in the United States

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.

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Language

Main article: Languages in the United States

The United States does not have an official language at the federal level. English is the language generally used for official pronouncements, though there is legislation that assists non-English speakers, such as the Voting Rights Language Assistance Act of 1992, which prohibits covered States and political subdivisions from providing English-only voting materials.

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 primarily due to the influence of recent Latin American immigrants. It is the primary spoken language in some areas of the Southwest. Puerto Rico's first language is Spanish. While it is a US commonwealth and not a state, its citizens have similar rights and their migration has had 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

File:Elvisstamp.jpg
Elvis Presley, an American singer and star who had a large impact on music and youth culture in the world.
Main article: Culture of the United States

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 famous 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. Nashville is the center of the country music industry. 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.

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.

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Sports

File:College Football CSU AF.jpg
American football is one of the most popular spectator sports in the United States.
Main article: Sports in the United States

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 Northeast. 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 [4].

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. Other European sports such as polo have minor leagues.

The United States hosts some of the premier events in other sports such as golf (including three of the four majors), 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.

File:NASCAR practice.jpg
NEXTEL Cup drivers practice for the 2004 Daytona 500.

In the 20th century, the United States became the center of the two most popular Western combat sportsboxing, which is popular as both a spectator sport and a gambling event, and professional wrestling, which is more scripted entertainment than a true sport. The United States has produced many champion boxers who have become public figures in their own right.

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 certain 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.

See also

Main article: List of United States-related topics

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International rankings

Notes

Detailed references available in a subpage United States/References.

  1. Template:Anb America may describe the United States or the AmericasNorth and South America (including Central 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 an inhabitant of America or 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.

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