United States

The United States of America—also referred to as the United States, the USA, the U.S., America, the States, and (poetically) Columbia—is a democratic federal republic of fifty states located primarily in central North America. The United States has land borders with Canada and Mexico, as well as several territorial water boundaries with Canada, Russia and The Bahamas. It is otherwise bounded by the Pacific Ocean, the Bering Sea, the Arctic Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea. Two of the fifty states, Alaska, an exclave, and Hawaii, an archipelago, are not contiguous with any of the other states. The United States also has a collection of overseas territories and possessions around the world. Each of the 50 states has a high level of local autonomy under the federal system.

United States of America
Flag of the United States Coat of Arms of the United States
(Flag) (Coat of Arms)
E Pluribus Unum (1789–present)
(Latin: "Out of Many, One")
In God We Trust (1956–present)
Anthem: The Star-Spangled Banner
Location of the United States
Capital Washington, D.C.
Template:Coor dm
Largest city New York City
Official languages None at federal level;
English de facto
Government Democratic Federal republic
Joe Biden
Kamala Harris
 - Declared
 - Recognized

 - completed
 - ratified
 - effective
From Great Britain
July 4, 1776
September 3, 1783

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

 • Total
 • Water (%)
3,796,742 sq mi/9,833,520 km2 km² (3rd)
 • 2022 est.
 • 2020 census
 • Density
333,287,557 [1] (http://www.census.gov/cgi-bin/popclock) (3rd)
87/km² (185th)
 • Total
 • Per capita
2023 estimate
$26,332,296 million (2nd)
$80,557 (9th)
Currency US dollar ($) (USD)
Time zone
 • Summer (DST)
(UTC-5 to -10)
varies (UTC)
Internet TLD .gov .edu .mil .us .um
Calling code +1

The official founding date of the United States is July 4, 1776, the date the Second Continental Congress, representing the thirteen British colonies, adopted the Declaration of Independence. However, the structure of the United States was profoundly changed in 1788 when the states replaced the Articles of Confederation with the United States Constitution; often, sources use the date each of the original 13 states adopted the Constitution as the date on that state "entered the Union" (became part of the United States). Since the mid-20th century, the United States has become a dominant global influence in contemporary economic, political, military, scientific, technological and cultural matters.



Main articles: History of the United States, Military history of the United States, Timeline of United States history, List of U.S. military history events

Following the European colonization of the Americas, thirteen colonies split from Great Britain and formed the United States, the world's first constitutional and democratic federal republic, after their Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the Revolutionary War (1775–1783). 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 existed 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 Kansas-Nebraska Act. The dispute reached a crisis point 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 13th Amendment took effect. The Civil War effectively ended the question of a state's right to secede, and is often cited as a major turning point, when the federal government became more powerful than state governments.

During the 19th century, many new states were added to the original 13 as the nation expanded across the North American continent. In the process, the U.S. displaced most Native American nations, seizing or expropriating their lands, killing many, and forcibly relocating tribes to otherwise unwanted and barren areas. (See Trail of Tears). In some areas, Native American populations were reduced by foreign diseases contracted through contact with European settlers, and U.S. settlers acquired those emptied lands. Through coercion, military prowess, and diplomatic leverage, the U.S. acquired a number of overseas possessions, from Cuba to the Philippines, though it gave up most of these over time. See also United States territorial acquisitions.

During this period the nation also became an industrial power. This continued into the 20th century, which some have termed "the American Century" due to America's tremendous influence on the world. The nation became a center for invention and technological development; major technologies that America either developed or was greatly involved in improving are the telephone, television, computer, the Internet, nuclear weapons, nuclear power, air travel and space travel.

In addition to the Civil War, another major traumatic experience for the nation was the Great Depression (19291939). The U.S. has also has taken part in several major foreign wars, including World War I and World War II (in which the U.S. was allied with Britain and other states). During the Cold War, the United States was a major player in the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and, along with the Soviet Union, was considered one of the world's only two "superpowers". With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S. 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 Gulf War to drive Iraq out of Kuwait. After terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001, the USA and other allied nations entered a war against Afghanistan and later a war against Iraq.

Government and politics

The government of the United States may be accurately categorized as a republic or as a liberal democracy. Specifically, the United States is an example of a representative democracy. There are three levels of government in the United States—federal, state, and local. All of these are freely elected by the American people. Americans enjoy universal suffrage. More information at the Main article: Politics of the United States

Federal government

United States Capitol
United States Capitol

The federal government is the national government. The Constitution of the United States limits the powers of the federal government to defense, foreign affairs, printing money, controlling trade and relations between the states, and protecting human rights. In addition to these explicitly stated powers, the government has generally extended these powers, citing the "necessary and proper clause" of the Constitution, into such areas as welfare and education. The federal government is made up of the Congress (the legislative branch), the President (the executive branch), and the Supreme Court (the judicial branch). These three branches are said to supply checks and balances on each other.

The Congress is a bicameral lawmaking institution composed of the House of Representatives and the Senate, which both meet in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. Traditionally, the House is considered the "lower house" and the Senate the "upper house," but Congressional publications refute this. The House has 435 members called representatives or congressmen and congresswomen, who are elected by the people of a congressional district to represent that district for a term of two years. The number of districts for each state depends on the size of the population of the state, and each state has at least one representative. As of the 2000 census, the districts had an average size of about 640,000 people.

The Senate has 100 members called senators, who are also elected by the people of a state to represent that state for a term of six years. Each state has two senators, regardless of its size. The Constitution initially gave the power to elect senators to the state legislatures; the 17th Amendment transferred this ability to the people.

At the top of the executive branch is the President of the United States, who acts as the Commander in Chief of the armed forces. The President signs laws into action, and can also issue pardons and executive orders. He has few other Constitutional duties, among them being the requirement to give a State of the Union address to Congress from time to time. Below the President is the Vice President, who is first in the line of succession and is the President of the Senate, with the ability to cast a tiebreaking vote. These two posts are elected, as running mates, by the people via the electoral college for four year terms.

Next are the members of the Cabinet, and the various departments they head, including the Department of Defense, the Justice Department, and the State Department. These departments and department heads hold much regulatory and political power, and it is these departments that are used to execute the laws of the nation.

The judicial branch of the federal government is used when dealing with federal and constitutional matters. A case may be appealed from a state court to a federal court only if there is a federal question, the supreme court of a state is the final authority on the interpretation of that state's laws and constitution. The highest court in the land is the Supreme Court, which consists of nine justices 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 that are the district courts, which are the general trial courts for federal law.

State and local governments

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 with two houses (one, in 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 typically town, city, or county councils, making laws that effect 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 some states in New England, the 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.


Main article: Military of the United States

Four of America's five military branches are under the Department of Defense: United States Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and the Air Force. The Coast Guard is under the Department of Homeland Security.

The combined United States armed forces consists of 1.4 million active duty personnel along with several hundred thousand each in the Reserves and National Guard. Military conscription ended in 1973. The United States Armed Forces is the most powerful military in the world and their force projection capabilities are unrivaled by any other single nation.

Foreign relations

Foreign relations of the United States

The immense military, economic, and cultural 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 Amerophilia (admiration and mimicking of all things American) to Anti-Americanism.

U.S. foreign policy has swung about several times over the course of its history between the poles of isolationism and imperialism and everywhere in between.


Physical geography

Geography of the United States

As the world's third largest country (by total area), the United States landscape varies greatly: temperate forestland and rolling hills on the East coast, mangrove in Florida, the Great Plains in the center of the country, the Mississippi-Missouri river system, the Great Lakes which are shared with Canada, the Rocky Mountains west of the 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 and climatic diversity.

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 American 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 semiarid shortgrass prairies on the High Plains abutting the Rocky Mountains. Arid deserts, including the Mojave, extend through the lowlands and valleys of the American Southwest from westernmost Texas to California and northward throughout much of Nevada. Some parts of the American West, including San Francisco, California, have a Mediterranean climate. Rain forests line the windward mountains of the Pacific Northwest from Oregon to Alaska.

Political geography

The political geography is notable as well, with the Canadian border being the longest undefended border in the world, and with the country being divided into three distinct sections: The continental United States, also known as the lower 48; Alaska, which is physically connected only to Canada, and the archipelago of Hawaii in the central Pacific Ocean.

Political divisions

Main article: Political divisions of the United States

With the Declaration of Independence, the thirteen colonies transformed themselves into nation states modeled after the European states of the time. Although considered as sovereigns initially, under the constitution they have delegated certain powers to the Congress, but have retained the majority of legislative authority for themselves. In the following years, the number of states within the U.S. grew steadily due to western expansion, the conquest and purchase of lands by the national government, 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 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 Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and the United States Virgin Islands. The United States Navy has held a base at an occupied portion of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba since 1898. The United States government claims a lease to this land, which only mutual agreement or United States abandonment of the area can terminate. The Cuban government disputes this arrangement, claiming Cuba was not truly sovereign at the time of the signing.

State Information

Political divisions of the United States Flag of the United States
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

Largest cities

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New York City, New York
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Los Angeles, California
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Chicago, Illinois

Main article: List of cities in the United States

The United States has dozens of major cities, including several important global cities such as New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago. The figures expressed below are for populations within city limits. A different ranking is evident when considering metropolitan areas, although the top three would be unchanged. The twenty largest cities, These rankings are based on the latest available population estimates as of 2021. Population figures can vary and are subject to change with new census data are:

Rank City Population
1. New York City, New York 8,336,817
2. Los Angeles, California 3,979,576
3. Chicago, Illinois 2,693,976
4. Houston, Texas 2,320,268
5. Phoenix, Arizona 1,680,992
6. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1,584,064
7. San Antonio, Texas 1,547,253
8. San Diego, California 1,423,851
9. Dallas, Texas 1,343,573
10. San Jose, California 894,943
11. Austin, Texas 978,908
12. Jacksonville, Florida 911,507
13. Fort Worth, Texas 909,585
14. Columbus, Ohio 898,553
15. Charlotte, North Carolina 885,708
16. San Francisco, California 881,549
17. Indianapolis, Indiana 876,384
18. Seattle, Washington 753,675
19. Denver, Colorado 727,211
20. Washington, D.C 705,749

It should be noted that some cities not listed are still considered important on the basis of other factors and issues, including culture, economics, heritage and politics.


National economy

Main article: Economy of the United States

The economy of the United States is organized primarily on a capitalist model, with some government regulation in many industries. There are also some social welfare programs like Social Security and unemployment benefits, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families ("welfare"), the Earned Income Tax Credit, Medicare, and Medicaid. Such departures from a pure free-market economy have generally increased since the late 1800s, but are less pronounced in the United States than in other industrialized countries.

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The United States dollar is the official currency.

The country has rich mineral resources, with extensive gold, oil, coal, and uranium deposits. Successful farm industries rank the country among the top producers of, among others, corn, wheat, sugar, and tobacco. The U.S. manufacturing sector produces, among other things, cars, airplanes, and electronics. The largest industry is now service, which employs roughly three-quarters of U.S. residents.

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 serving as the center of the American automotive industry; the Great Plains are known as “the breadbasket of America” for their tremendous agricultural output, while Texas is largely associated with the oil industry; the Southeastern U.S. is a major hub for medical research, as well as many of the nation's textiles manufacturers.

Several countries continue to link their currency to the dollar (such as the People's Republic of China), or even use it as a currency (such as Ecuador), although this practice has subsided since the collapse of the Bretton Woods system.

The largest trading partner of the United States is Canada (20%), followed by Mexico (12%), China (Mainland 10%, Hong Kong 1%) 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 40.4 million visitors ranked behind France's 75 million and Spain's 52.5 million.

See also: List of United States companies


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Main article: Transportation in the United States

Because the United States is such a relatively young nation, most of the development of US cities has taken place after the invention of the automobile. To link its vast territories, the United States built a network of high capacity, high speed highways, of which the most important aspect is the Interstate Highway system. The United States also has a transcontinental rail system which is used for moving freight across the lower 48 states.

Many cities in the United States have extensive mass transit systems. New York City, NY operates the world's largest and most heavily used subway system.

Air travel is often preferred for destinations over 300 mi (500 km) away, and some airports, such as Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, are among the busiest in the world. There are several major seaports in the United States, including New York City, Savannah, Georgia, Miami, Florida, Houston, Texas, Los Angeles, California, and Seattle, Washington, plus Anchorage, Alaska and Honolulu, Hawaii outside of the contiguous 48 states.



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Main article: Demographics of the United States

Ethnicity and race

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Top ancestry in each U.S. county in 2000.

Americans, in part due to racial categories outlined by the U.S. government, generally describe themselves as beloging to one of five groups: White, also called Caucasian (those having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa); Black, also called African American (those having origins in any of the Black racial groups of Africa); American Indian/Alaskan Native, also called Native American (those having origins in any of the original peoples of North, Central and South America, and who maintain tribal affiliation or community attachment); Asian, also called Asian American (those having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent); and Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander (those having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands).

In addition to these, the category "Some other race" was included in the 2000 census for respondents who were unable to identify with any of the five Office of Management and Budget race categories. Those who identified as "South African", "Belizean", a Hispanic origin (eg. Mexican, Mexican-American, Puerto Rican, Cuban, etc.) or even "American" were included in the "Some other race" category. The Census Bureau considers race to be separate from Hispanic origin.

The category Asian is popularly identified with East Asia, rather than South or Southwest Asia. The term African-American is associated with centuries-long residents, and does not make distinctions between them and, say, recent Afro-Caribbean immigrants from Jamaica or imigrants from Nigeria or refugees from Somalia.

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Top ancestries in 2000.

The majority of the 295 million people currently living in the United States descend from European immigrants who have arrived since the establishment of the first colonies. Major components of the European segment of the United States population are descended from immigrants from Germany (15.2%), Ireland (10.8%), England (8.7%), Italy (5.6%), Scandinavia (3.7%) and many immigrants also coming from Slavic countries. Other significant immigrant populations came from eastern and southern Europe and French Canada, though far more immigrants came directly to America from France than came via French Canada. These numbers, however, are less precise than they appear, as many citizens listed themselves as "American" on the census (7.2%). A county by county map of plurality ethnic groups reveals that the areas with the largest "American" ancestry populations were mostly settled by English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh, suggesting that the percentages listed for those groups should consequently be slightly larger.

Similarly, while there were few immigrants directly from Spain, Hispanics from Mexico and South and Central America are considered the largest minority group in the country, comprising 13.4% of the population in 2002. This has brought increasing use of the Spanish language in the United States. Mexicans alone made up 7.3% of the population in the 2000 census, and this proportion is expected to increase significantly in the coming decades. The Hispanic category is based more on language than race and is defined by the Census as anybody from or with forebears from Spain or Spanish-speaking Latin America so Hispanics may be of any race. About 45% identify by their ethnic background only (e.g., "Mexican", "Colombian"); they are usually mestizos or even American Indians of unmixed ancestry. About 40% identify as white with more European (especially Spanish) ancestry; however, on average, they tend to have more Amerindian or African blood than non-Hispanic whites. They are a diverse group consisting of most Puerto Ricans and Cubans, and a large proportion of the New Mexican Spanish, Tejanos, and recent South American immigrants, as well as children of mixed marriages between Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites. Another 5% identify as black or mulatto; they typically are descended from Spanish-speaking Caribbean immigrants such as Dominicans. The remainder includes mostly self-identified Indians (Maya, Mixtec, etc.) and people of mixed background. Most Filipinos, however, are not considered Hispanic.

About 12.9% (2000 census) of the American people are African Americans, most of whom are descendants of the enslaved Africans brought to the U.S. between the 1620s and 1807. Starting in the 1970s, the black population has been bolstered by immigration from the Caribbean, especially Jamaica and Haiti; more recently, starting in the 1990s, there has been an influx of African immigrants to the United States due to the instability in political and economic opportunities in various nations in Africa.

A third significant minority is the Asian American population (4.2%), most of whom are concentrated on the West Coast and Hawaii. It is by no means a monolithic group; the largest groups are immigrants or descendants of emigrants from China, the Philippines, India, Vietnam, South Korea and Japan. While the Asian-American population is generally a fairly recent addition to the nation's ethnic mix, large waves of Chinese, Filipino and Japanese immigration happened in the mid to late 1800s.

The aboriginal population of Native Americans, such as American Indians and Inuit, make up about 1.5% of the population.

According to the 2000 census, the United States has 37 ethnic groups with at least one million people each.

See also: Immigration to the United States


Main articles: Religion in the United States, Demographics of the United States

Self-Described Religious Identification of Adult Population: 1990 and 2001 [2] (http://www.gc.cuny.edu/faculty/research_briefs/aris/key_findings.htm)

Source: US Census (http://www.census.gov/prod/www/religion.htm)
1990 2001 Change
in %
Total Christian 86.4% 76.7% -9.7%
Catholic 26.2% 24.5% -1.8%
Protestant 55.2% 45.1% -10.1%
Baptist 19.4% 16.3% -3.1%
Methodist/Wesleyan 8.1% 6.8% -1.3%
Lutheran 5.2% 4.6% -0.6%
Presbyterian 2.8% 2.7% -0.2%
Protestant - no denomination supplied 9.8% 2.2% -7.6%
Pentecostal/Charismatic 1.8% 2.1% +0.3%
Episcopalian/Anglican 1.7% 1.7% -0.1%
Mormon/Latter-Day Saints 1.4% 1.3% -0.1%
Churches of Christ 1.0% 1.2% +0.2%
Other Protestant (less than 1% each) 4.0% 6.2% +2.2%
Christian - no denomination supplied 4.6% 6.8% +2.2%
Eastern Orthodox 0.3% 0.3% --
Total other religions 3.3% 3.7% +0.4%
Jewish 1.8% 1.4% -0.4%
Islamic 0.3% 0.5% +0.2%
Buddhist 0.2% 0.5% +0.3%
Hindu 0.1%0.4%+0.2%
Unitarian Universalist 0.3%0.3% --
Others (less than 0.07% each) 0.6%0.6% --
Total No religion 8.2% 14.2% +6.0%
Total Refused to reply 2.3% 5.4% +3.1%

The United States is noteworthy among developed nations for its relatively high level of religiosity. Overall, more than 25% 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.


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. In most states, all students must attend mandatory schooling starting with kindergarten and following through 12th grade. Parents may educate their own children at home (with varying degrees of state oversight), send their children to a public school, which is free, 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 have a choice of attending either 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.

American colleges and universities range from highly competitive schools, such as Harvard University, to hundreds of local community colleges with open admission policies. For a complete list, see Colleges and Universities in the United States.


Main article: Languages in the United States

The United States does not have an official language at federal level; nevertheless, English is spoken by the vast majority of the population and serves as the de facto 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.

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.


In terms of relative wealth, U.S. residents enjoy a standard of personal economic wealth that is close to that known in Scandinavian countries and Switzerland. For example, 51% of all households have access to a computer and 67.9% of U.S. households owned their dwellings in 2002. However, there is also a considerable amount of poverty in the United States with 12.1% of the population living below the official national poverty level.

The social structure of the United States is somewhat stratified, with a significant class of very wealthy individuals; eleven of the twenty richest people in the world are Americans. On one widely used measure of inequality, the Gini coefficient, the United States has the highest inequality of any wealthy country. Nevertheless, ideas of social mobility figure prominently in the American dream, which holds that someone born into a poor family can, through hard work, ultimately rise into the upper classes. However, there is debate over how often this actually occurs in modern American society, both compared with earlier eras and with other developed nations.

See also: Richest places in the United States and Poorest places in the United States

Social issues

Main articles: Social issues in the United States, Human rights in the United States, Health care in the United States

The American , enacted in , provides a list of basic guaranteed rights
The American Bill of Rights, enacted in 1791, provides a list of basic guaranteed rights

The Constitution makes provisions for the rights of freedom of speech, the right to keep and bear arms, freedom of religion, trial by jury, and protection from cruel and unusual punishment. The United States accepts many immigrants, and has anti-discrimination laws to protect minority groups. Some examples of these are the various Civil Rights Acts, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the 14th Amendment, and hate crime legislation.

Nevertheless, the United States has at times been criticized for alleged violations of human rights, including racial discrimination in trials and sentences, police abuses, excessive and unwarranted incarceration, and the imposition of the death penalty in some states. In 2001, Human Rights Watch issued a report stating that United States had "made little progress in embracing international human rights standards at home." [3] (http://www.hrw.org/wr2k1/usa/)


Main article: Culture of the United States

, an American singer and star who had a large impact on music and youth culture in the world.
Elvis Presley, an American singer and star who had a large impact on music and youth culture in the world.

U.S. culture has a large influence on the rest of the world, especially the Western world. This influence is sometimes criticized as cultural imperialism. 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, while Seattle and the rest of Washington is a world leader in the grunge and heavy metal music industries, as well as the visual arts. 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. 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.

See also: Arts and entertainment in the United States, Media of the United States


Some sports that originated or evolved in the United States, particularly basketball, American football, and baseball, which is often referred to as the Great American Pastime, have achieved a worldwide audience; the Super Bowl, the annual championship game of the National Football League, is one of the highest watched broadcasts in the world, with viewership far outnumbering the total American population. Baseball is extremely popular in Latin American nations and Japan, and football has had some success in expanding to Europe (NFL Europe). NASCAR (stock car racing) is also one of America's top sports; it is the fastest growing sport in America. However, few "foreign" sports have caught on in America; attempts to create professional soccer (football) leagues have struggled, and cricket and rugby are not played on any professional level.

The United States hosts some of the premier events in other sports such as golf (including The Masters), tennis (U.S. Open), and auto racing (particularly the Indianapolis 500), hosted the World Cup in 1994, and has hosted eight Olympic Games, more than any other nation. The United States generally fares very well in the Olympics, especially the Summer Olympics. In 2004, the US collected a record 100 total Olympic medals.

Federal holidays

Main article: Holidays of the United States

Date Name Remarks
January 1 New Year's Day Beginning of year, marks the traditional end of the "holiday season."
January, third Monday Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Honors the late civil rights leader. Few non-governmental organizations grant time off for this holiday.
February, third Monday Presidents' Day Honors former U.S. presidents, especially Washington and Lincoln, who both share February birthdays. Few non-governmental organizations grant time off for this holiday.
May, last Monday Memorial Day Honors servicemen and women who died in service; also marks the traditional beginning of summer.
July 4 Independence Day Usually called the Fourth of July. Celebrates the United States' independence from Great Britain, formally declared on this date in 1776.
September, first Monday Labor Day Celebrates achievements of workers. This holiday is held instead of the traditional worldwide Labor Day, May 1, which actually began in the U.S. Also marks the traditional end of summer.
October, second Monday Columbus Day Honors Christopher Columbus, traditional discoverer of the Americas. Somewhat controversial, and few non-governmental organizations grant time off for this holiday. Hawaii does not honor the day, instead celebrating Discoverer's Day in honor of James Cook.
November 11 Veterans' Day Previously known as Armistice Day. Honors those who have served in the military. Also marks the end of World War I in 1918. Traditional observation of a moment of silence at 11 a.m.
November, fourth Thursday Thanksgiving Day of thanks that marks the traditional beginning of the "holiday season." The day before Thanksgiving is traditionally the busiest travel day of the year in the U.S., and the day after is traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year, known as "Black Friday."
December 25 Christmas Celebration of Christmas, the birth of Jesus. In recent years, it has become a more secular winter holiday outside of religious communities, with many non-Christians and non-observant Christians buying and exchanging traditional Christmas gifts. Most retailers count on the Christmas holiday to provide a significant portion of their total annual sales.

Related topics

Main article: List of United States-related topics

Topics in the United States
History Timeline ( Colonial Era | American Revolution | Westward Expansion | Civil War | World War 1 | Great Depression | World War 2 | 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
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)
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 (Hippies | Blues | Jazz | Rock and roll | Hip hop | Gospel | Country) | 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 | Poverty | Prisons | Capital punishment) | American Exceptionalism | Anti-Americanism | American Folklore | American English | United States Mexico barrier

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External links

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Countries in North America
Antigua and Barbuda | Bahamas | Barbados | Belize | Canada | Costa Rica | Cuba | Dominica | Dominican Republic | El Salvador | Grenada | Guatemala | Haiti | Honduras | Jamaica | Mexico | Nicaragua | Panama | Saint Kitts and Nevis | Saint Lucia | Saint Vincent and the Grenadines | Trinidad and Tobago | United States
Dependencies: Anguilla | Aruba | Bermuda | British Virgin Islands | Cayman Islands | Greenland | Guadeloupe | Martinique | Montserrat | Navassa Island | Netherlands Antilles | Puerto Rico | Saint-Pierre and Miquelon | Turks and Caicos Islands | U.S. Virgin Islands

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