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United States

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The United States of America (also known as the United States, the U.S., the U.S.A., the U.S. of A., the States and America) is a country in North America that extends from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean and shares land borders with Canada and Mexico and a sea border with Russia and The Bahamas. The United States is a federal republic, with its capital in Washington, D.C.

The present day continental United States has been inhabited for at least 15,000 years by indigenous tribes.<ref>"Indian, American", 2001 Standard Edition CD-ROM of The World Book Encyclopedia: "Most scientists think the first Indians came to the Americas from Asia at least 15,000 years ago. Other scientists believe the Indians may have arrived as early as 35,000 years ago. [* * *] By 12,500 years ago, Indians had spread throughout the New World and were living from the Arctic in the north all the way to southern South America."</ref> In the 16th century European exploration and settlement began, led by the English, Dutch and Swedish. By the mid 16th century the English had gained control of the former Dutch and Swedish settlements and established thirteen colonies on the eastern seaboard. On July 4 1776, at war with Britain over fair governance, thirteen of these colonies declared their independence. In 1783, the war ended in British acceptance of the new nation. Since then, the United States of America has more than quadrupled in size: it now consists of 50 states and one federal district; it also has numerous overseas territories.

At over 3.7 million square miles (over 9.5 million km²), the U.S. is the third or fourth largest country by total area, depending on whether China's figures include its disputed areas. It is the world's third most populous nation, with over 300 million people.

The date of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776, is generally considered to be the date on which the U.S. was founded. The first federal government was constituted under the Articles of Confederation, adopted in 1781. The Articles were replaced by the Constitution, adopted in 1787. Since its establishment, the liberal democratic nature of the government has grown as suffrage has been extended to more citizens. American military, economic, cultural, and political influence increased throughout the 20th century. With the collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War, the nation emerged as the world's sole remaining superpower.<ref>History and the Hyperpower by Eliot A. Cohen. July/August 2004. Council on Foreign Relations. URL accessed July 14, 2006.</ref> Today, the United States plays a major role in world affairs.



Template:See also

The earliest known use of the name America is from 1507, when a globe and a large map created by the German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller in Saint-Die-des-Vosges described the combined continents of North and South America. Although the origin of the name is uncertain,<ref>Theories on the origin of America's name</ref> the most widely held belief is that expressed in an accompanying book, Cosmographiae Introductio, which explains it as a feminized version of the Latin name of Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci (Americus Vespucius); in Latin, the other continents' names were all feminine. Vespucci theorized, correctly, that Christopher Columbus, on reaching islands in the Caribbean Sea in 1492, had come not to India but to a "New World".

The Americas were also known as Columbia, after Columbus, prompting the name District of Columbia for the land set aside as the U.S. capital. Columbia remained a popular name for the United States until the early 20th century, when it fell into relative disuse; but it is still used poetically and appears in various names and titles. One female personification of the country is called Columbia; she is similar to Britannia.<ref>http://www.nasa.gov/columbia/home/index.html</ref><ref>http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/C/htmlC/columbiabroa/columbiabroa.htm</ref><ref>http://www.reelclassics.com/Studios/Columbia/columbia.htm</ref><ref>http://memory.loc.gov/cocoon/ihas/loc.natlib.ihas.200000004/default.html</ref> Columbus Day is a holiday in the U.S. and other countries in the Americas commemorating Columbus' October 1492 landing.

The term "united States of America" was first used officially in the Declaration of Independence, adopted on July 4 1776. On November 15 1777, the Second Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation, the first of which stated "The Stile of this Confederacy shall be 'The United States of America.'" The name was originally proposed by Thomas Paine.

The adjectival and demonymic forms for the United States are American.



A satellite composite image of the contiguous U.S. Deciduous vegetation and grasslands prevail in the east, transitioning to prairies, boreal forests, and the Rocky Mountains in the west, and deserts in the southwest. In the northeast, the coasts of the Great Lakes and Atlantic seaboard host much of the country's population.

The United States is the world's third largest country by land area, after Russia and Canada.<ref>Rank Order- Area. 20 April 2006. CIA World Factbook. URL accessed 3 May 2006.</ref> Its contiguous portion is bounded by the North Atlantic Ocean to the east, the North Pacific Ocean to the west, Mexico and the Gulf of Mexico to the south, and Canada to the north. The state of Alaska also borders Canada, with the Pacific Ocean to its south and the Arctic Ocean to its north. West of Alaska, across the narrow Bering Strait, is Russia. The state of Hawaii occupies an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, southwest of the North American mainland.


The U.S. has an extremely varied geography, particularly in the West. The eastern seaboard has a coastal plain which is widest in the south and narrows in the north. The coastal plain does not exist north of New Jersey, although there are glacial outwash plains on Long Island, Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket. In the extreme southeast, Florida is home to the ecologically unique Everglades.

Beyond the coastal plain, the rolling hills of the Piedmont region end at the Appalachian Mountains, which rise above 6,000 feet (1,830 m) in North Carolina, Tennessee, and New Hampshire. From the west slope of the Appalachians, the Interior Plains of the Midwest are relatively flat and are the location of the Great Lakes as well as the Mississippi-Missouri River, the world's 4th longest river system.<ref>Mississippi River. 2004. Visit Bemidji- First City on the Mississippi. URL accessed May 3, 2006.</ref> West of the Mississippi River, the Interior Plains slope uphill and blend into the vast and often featureless Great Plains.

The abrupt rise of the Rocky Mountains, at the western edge of the Great Plains, extends north to south across the continental U.S., reaching altitudes over 14,000 feet (4,270 m) in Colorado.<ref>Peakbagger.com, Colorado 14,000-foot Peaks, URL accessed May 3, 2006.</ref> In the past, the Rocky Mountains had a higher level of volcanic activity; nowadays, the range only has one area of volcanism (the supervolcano underlying Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, possibly the world's largest volcano), although rift volcanism has occurred relatively recently near the Rockies' southern margin in New Mexico.<ref>Smithsonian Institution Global Volcanism Program, New Mexico volcanoes, URL accessed August 26, 2006.</ref> Dozens of high mountain ranges, salt flats such as the Bonneville Salt Flats, and valleys are found in the Great Basin region located west of the Rockies and east of the Sierra Nevada, which also has deep chasms, including the Snake River. At the southwestern end of the Great Basin, Death Valley lies 282 feet (86 m) below sea level, the second lowest dry land on Earth. It is the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere and is situated near the Mojave Desert.

North of the Great Basin and east of the Cascade Range in the Northwest is the Columbia River Plateau, a large igneous province shaped by one of the largest flood basalts on Earth. It is marked by dark black rocks. Surrounding the Four Corners region lies the Colorado Plateau, named after the Colorado River, which flows through it. The Plateau is generally high in elevation, has highly eroded sandstone, and the soil is a blood red in some locations. Many national parks, such as Arches, Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon, and Zion are in the area. West of the Great Basin, the Sierra Nevada mountain range has Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the coterminous U.S. Along the Pacific coast, the Coast Ranges and the volcanic Cascade Range extend from north to south across the country. The northwestern Pacific coast shares the world's largest temperate rain forest with Canada.

Alaska has numerous mountain ranges, including Mount McKinley (Denali), the highest peak in North America. Numerous volcanoes can be found throughout the Alexander and Aleutian Islands extending south and west of the Alaskan mainland.

The Hawaiian islands are tropical, volcanic islands extending over 1,500 miles (2,400 km), and consisting of six larger islands and another dozen smaller ones that are inhabited.

Wasatch Range, in Utah, part of the Rocky Mountains, next to the Great Salt Lake. Mark Twain described the two as America's Great Wall and Dead Sea.


The climate of the U.S. is as varied as its landscape. In northern Alaska, tundra and arctic conditions predominate, and the temperature has fallen as low as minus 80 °F (−62 °C).<ref>Williams, Jack Each state's low temperature record, USA today, URL accessed 13 June, 2006.</ref> On the other end of the spectrum, Death Valley, California once reached 134 °F (56.7 °C), the second-highest temperature ever recorded on Earth.<ref name="Death_Valley">Template:Cite web</ref>

On average, the mountains of the western states receive the highest levels of snowfall on Earth. The greatest annual snowfall level is at Mount Rainier in Washington, at 692 inches (1,758 cm); the record there was 1,122 inches (2,850 cm) in the winter of 1971–72. Other places with significant snowfall outside the Cascade Range are the Wasatch Mountains, near the Great Salt Lake, and the Sierra Nevada, near Lake Tahoe. In the east, while snowfall does not approach western levels, the region near the Great Lakes and the mountains of the Northeast receive the most. Along the northwestern Pacific coast, rainfall is greater than anywhere else in the continental U.S., with Quinault Ranger in Washington having an average of 137 inches (348 cm).<ref>National Atlas, Average Annual Precipitation, 1961-1990, URL accessed 15 June 2006.</ref> Hawaii receives even more, with 460 inches (1,168 cm) measured annually on Mount Waialeale, in Kauai. The Mojave Desert, in the southwest, is home to the driest locale in the U.S. Yuma Valley, Arizona, has an average of 2.63 inches (6.68 cm) of precipitation each year.<ref>Hereford, Richard, et al, Precipitation History of the Mojave Desert Region, 1893–2001, U.S. Geological Survey, Fact Sheet 117-03, URL accessed 13 June 2006.</ref>

In central portions of the U.S., tornadoes are more common than anywhere else on Earth<ref>NOVA, Tornado Heaven, Hunt for the Supertwister, URL accessed 15 June 2006.</ref> and touch down most commonly in the spring and summer. Deadly and destructive hurricanes occur almost every year along the Atlantic seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico. The Appalachian region and the Midwest experience the worst floods, though virtually no area in the U.S. is immune to flooding. The Southwest has the worst droughts; one is thought to have lasted over 500 years and to have decimated the Anasazi people.<ref>O'Connor, Jim E. and John E. Costa, Large Floods in the United States: Where They Happen and Why, U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1245, URL accessed 13 June 2006.</ref> The West is affected by large wildfires each year.



Native Americans

Before the European colonization of the Americas, a process that began at the end of the 15th century, the present-day continental U.S. was inhabited exclusively by various indigenous tribes, including Alaskan natives, who migrated to the continent over a period that may have begun 35,000 years ago and may have ended as recently as 11,000 years ago.<ref>"Paleoamerican Origins". 1999. Smithsonian Institution. Accessed 2 May 2006.</ref>

European colonization

The Mayflower, which transported Pilgrims to the New World, arrived in 1620.

The first confirmed European landing in the present-day United States was by Christopher Columbus, who visited Puerto Rico on November 19, 1493, during his second voyage. San Juan, the United States' first European settlement was founded there on August 8, 1508 by Juan Ponce de León. Ponce de León went on to become the first confirmed European to arrive in the continental US when he landed in Florida on April 2, 1513. Florida was home to the continental United States' earliest European colonies; these were Pensacola (founded by Tristán de Luna y Arellano in 1559), Fort Caroline (by René Goulaine de Laudonnière in 1564), and St. Augustine (by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés in 1565), the last of which is the only one which was continuously inhabited since its foundation.

The French colonized some of the northeastern portions, and the Spanish colonized most of the southern and western United States. The first successful English settlement was at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607, followed in 1620 by the Pilgrims' landing at Plymouth, Massachusetts, and then the arrival of the colony of Massachusetts Bay, started by the Puritans. In 1609 and 1617, respectively, the Dutch settled in part of what became New York and New Jersey. In 1638, the Swedes founded New Sweden, in part of what became Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania after passing through Dutch hands. Throughout the 17th and early 18th centuries, England (and later Great Britain) established new colonies, took over Dutch colonies, and split others. With the division of the Carolinas in 1729, and the colonization of Georgia in 1732, the British colonies in North America—excluding present-day Canada, and the loyal colonies of East and West Florida—numbered thirteen.

American Revolution

Image:Declaration independence.jpg
Presenting the Declaration of Independence to the Continental Congress

Template:Main Tensions between American colonials and the British during the revolutionary period of the 1760s and 1770s led to open military conflict in 1775. The British Colonies of East and West Florida and Quebec did not join in the rebellion against Great Britain. George Washington commanded the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783) as the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. The Second Continental Congress had been formed to confront British actions and created the Continental Army, but it did not have the authority to levy taxes or make federal laws. In 1777, the Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation, uniting the states under a weak federal government, which operated from 1781 until 1788, when enough states had ratified the United States Constitution. The Constitution, which strengthened the union and the federal government, has since remained the supreme law of the land.<ref>Yanak, Ted and Cornelison, Pam. The Great American History Fact-finder: The Who, What, Where, When, and Why of American History. Page 114. Houghton Mifflin; 2nd Updated edition: 27 August 2004. ISBN 0-618-43941-2</ref>

Following the war, United Empire Loyalists, soldiers and civilians, were evacuated from the colonies and resettled in other colonies of the British Empire, most notably to Quebec, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland in what is now Canada.

Westward expansion


Image:U.S. Territorial Acquisitions.png
National Atlas map depicting dates of select territorial acquisitions. Full Oregon and other claims are not included.

From 1803 to 1848, the size of the new nation nearly tripled as settlers (many embracing the concept of Manifest Destiny as an inevitable consequence of American exceptionalism) pushed beyond national boundaries even before the Louisiana Purchase.<ref>Manifest Destiny- An interpretation of How the West was Won. Crossroads of Earth Resources and Society. URL accessed on 4 May 2006.</ref> The expansion was tempered somewhat by the stalemate in the War of 1812, but it was subsequently reinvigorated by victory in the Mexican-American War in 1848.

Civil War

Image:Battle of Gettysburg, by Currier and Ives.png
The Battle of Gettysburg, a major turning point of the American Civil War. The victory of the Union kept the country united.

Template:Main As new territories were being incorporated, the nation was divided over the issue of states' rights, the role of the federal government, and—by the 1820s—the expansion of slavery, which had been legal in all thirteen colonies but was rarer in the north, where it was abolished by 1804. The Northern states were opposed to the expansion of slavery whereas the Southern states saw the opposition as an attack on their way of life, since their economy was dependent on slave labor. The failure to permanently resolve these issues led to the Civil War, following the secession of many slave states in the South to form the Confederate States of America after the 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln.<ref>Morrison, Michael A Slavery and the American West: The Eclipse of Manifest Destiny and the Coming of the Civil War. Page 176. University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0-8078-4796-8.</ref> The 1865 Union victory in the Civil War effectively ended slavery and settled the question of whether a state had the right to secede. The event was a major turning point in American history, with an increase in federal power.<ref>De Rosa, Marshall L. The Politics of Dissolution: The Quest for a National Identity and the American Civil War. Page 266. Transaction Publishers: 1 January 1997. ISBN 1-56000-349-9</ref>

Reconstruction and industrialization

Image:Ellis island 1902.jpg
Landing at Ellis Island, 1902. Today, the majority of Americans are the descendants of European immigrants who arrived in the 18th, 19th and early 20th; many of whom arrived at Ellis Island.

After the Civil War, an unprecedented influx of immigrants, who helped to provide labor for American industry and create diverse communities in undeveloped areas—together with high tariff protections, national infrastructure building, and national banking regulations—hastened the country's rise to international power. The growing power of the United States enabled it to acquire new territories, including the annexation of Puerto Rico after victory in the Spanish-American War,<ref>Spielvogel, Jackson J. Western Civilization: Volume II: Since 1500. Page 708. Wadsworth Publishing: 10 January 2005. ISBN 0-534-64604-2</ref> which marked the debut of the United States as a major world power.

World War I and II

Image:Dallas South Dakota 1936.jpg
An abandoned farm in South Dakota during the Great Depression, 1936.

Template:Main At the start of the World War I in 1914, the United States remained neutral. In 1917, however, the United States joined the Allied Powers, helping to turn the tide against the Central Powers. For historical reasons, American sympathies were very much in favor of the British and French, even though a sizable number of citizens, mostly Irish and German, were opposed to intervention.<ref>Eric Foner and John A. Garraty, The Reader's Companion to American History. Page 576. 21 October 1991. Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-395-51372-3.</ref> After the war, the Senate did not ratify the Treaty of Versailles because of a fear that it would pull the United States into European affairs. Instead, the country pursued a policy of unilateralism that bordered at times on isolationism.<ref>McDuffie, Jerome, Piggrem, Gary Wayne, and Woodworth, Steven E. U.S. History Super Review. Page 418. Research & Education Association: 21 June 2005. ISBN 0-7386-0070-9</ref>

During most of the 1920s, the United States enjoyed a period of unbalanced prosperity as farm prices fell and industrial profits grew. A rise in debt and an inflated stock market culminated in a crash in 1929, triggering the Great Depression. After his election as President in 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt instituted his plan for a New Deal, which increased government intervention in the economy in response to the Great Depression.

The nation did not fully recover until 1941, when the United States was driven to join the Allies against the Axis Powers after a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan. World War II was the costliest war in American history,<ref>World War II By The Numbers. The National WWII Museum, New Orleans. Last accessed October 24, 2006.</ref><ref>More costly than 'the war to end all wars'. David R. Francis, Christian Science Monitor. August 29, 2005. Last accessed October 24, 2006.</ref> but it helped to pull the economy out of depression because the required production of military materiel provided much-needed jobs, and women entered the workforce in large numbers for the first time. During this war, scientists working for the United States federal government succeeded in producing nuclear weapons, making the United States the world's first nuclear power. Toward the end of World War II, after the end of World War II in Europe, the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. Japan surrendered soon after, on 2 September 1945, which ended World War II.<ref>Walker, John F, and Vatter, Harold G The Rise of Big Government in the United States. Page 63. M.E. Sharpe: May 1997. ISBN 0-7656-0067-6.</ref>

Cold War and civil rights

Image:Buzz salutes the U.S. Flag.jpg
U.S. astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the moon during the first manned landing, 1969.

Template:Main After World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union became superpowers in an era of ideological rivalry dubbed the Cold War. The United States promoted liberal democracy and capitalism, while the Soviet Union communism and a centrally planned economy. The result was a series of proxy wars, including the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the tense nuclear showdown of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Soviet war in Afghanistan.

The perception that the United States was losing the space race spurred government efforts to raise proficiency in mathematics and science in schools<ref>Rudolph, John L. Scientists in the Classroom: The Cold War Reconstruction of American Science Education. Page 1. Palgrave Macmillan: 3 May 2002. ISBN 0-312-29571-5.</ref> and led to President John F. Kennedy's call for the United States to land "a man on the moon" by the end of the 1960s, which was realized in 1969.<ref>Rudolph, John L. Scientists in the Classroom: The Cold War Reconstruction of American Science Education. Page 1. Palgrave Macmillan: 3 May 2002. ISBN 0-312-29571-5.</ref>

Meanwhile, American society experienced a period of sustained economic expansion. At the same time, discrimination across the United States, especially in the South, was increasingly challenged by a growing civil-rights movement headed by prominent African Americans such as Martin Luther King, Jr., which led to the abolition of the Jim Crow laws in the South.<ref>Klarman, Michael J. From Jim Crow to Civil Rights: The Supreme Court and the Struggle for Racial Equality. Page 552. Oxford University Press, USA: 4 May 2006. ISBN 0-19-531018-7.</ref>

After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States continued to intervene militarily overseas, for example in the Gulf War. It remains the worlds only Superpower.

September 11, 2001 and the War on Terrorism

Template:Main On September 11 2001, 19 al-Qaeda operatives hijacked four commercial airplanes and flew two planes into the World Trade Center towers, one plane into The Pentagon; the fourth plane was brought down by passengers in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. After the 9/11 attacks, U.S. foreign policy then focused on the global threat of terrorism. In response, the United States government under President George W. Bush began a series of military and legal operations termed the War on Terror. The War on Terror began on October 7, 2001 when a U.S.-led coalition launched military operations in Afghanistan which led to the removal of the Taliban rule and the expulsion of the terrorist organization al-Qaeda and its leader Osama Bin Laden. The events of September 11 led to a preemptive policy against threats to U.S. security, known as the Bush Doctrine.

In the 2002 State of the Union address, President George W. Bush labeled North Korea, Iraq, and Iran "the axis of evil," and stated that these countries "constitute a grave threat to the security of the U.S. and its allies." Beginning later that year, the Bush administration began to press for regime change in the rogue state of Iraq. After many failed U.N. resolutions and Saddam Hussien rejecting demands to surrender, the United States and its allies invaded Iraq in March of 2003. The Bush administration justified its invasion with a charge that Iraq had stockpiled weapons of mass destruction, and was seeking nuclear weapons.<ref>http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/10/20021007-8.html</ref> After the invasion, only a limited number of non-nuclear stockpiles were found, and the Bush administration later admitted having acted on flawed intelligence. As of November 2006, the Iraq War remains an ongoing event.

Government and politics


The United States Capitol

The United States is the longest-surviving extant constitutional republic, with the oldest wholly written constitution in the world. Its government operates as a representative democracy through a congressional system under a set of powers specified by its Constitution. There are three levels of government: federal, state, and local. Officials at all three levels are either elected by voters in a secret ballot or appointed by other elected officials. Executive and legislative offices are decided by a plurality vote of citizens in their respective districts, with judicial and cabinet-level offices nominated by the Executive branch and approved by the Legislature. In some states, judicial posts are filled by popular election rather than executive appointment.

The federal government comprises three branches, which are designed to check and balance one another's powers:

  • Legislative: The Congress, made up of the Senate and the House of Representatives, which makes federal law, declares war, approves treaties and has powers of impeachment.
  • Executive: The President, who appoints, with Senate approval, the Cabinet and other officers, who administers and enforces federal law, can veto bills, and is Commander in Chief of the military.
  • Judiciary: The Supreme Court and lower federal courts, whose judges are appointed by the President with Senate approval, that interpret laws and their validity under the Constitution, and can overturn laws they deem unconstitutional.

The United States Congress is a bicameral legislature. The House has 435 members, each representing a congressional district for a two-year term. House seats are apportioned among the states according to population every tenth year. Each state is guaranteed at least one representative: currently, seven states have one each; California, the most populous state, has 53. Each state has two senators, elected at large to six-year terms; one third of Senate seats are up for election every second year.

The north side of the White House
Under the country's federal system, the relationship between the state and national governments is complex; under U.S. law, states are considered sovereign entities. However, the American Civil War and Texas v. White established that states do not have the right to secede, and, under the Constitution, they are not allowed to conduct foreign policy. Federal law overrides state law in the areas in which the federal government is empowered to act; but the powers of the federal government are subject to limits outlined in the Constitution. All powers not granted to the federal government in the Constitution are left to the states or the people themselves. However, the "Necessary and Proper" and "Commerce" clauses of the Constitution legally allow the extension of federal powers into other affairs, though this is the topic of considerable debate over states' rights.

The United States Constitution is the supreme legal document in the American system, and serves as a social contract between the people of the United States and their government. All laws and procedures of both state and federal governments are subject to review, and any law ruled to violate the Constitution by the judicial branch is overturned. The Constitution is a living document. It can be amended by a variety of methods, all of which require the approval of an overwhelming majority of the states. The Constitution has been amended 27 times, the last time in 1992.

The Constitution contains a dedication to "preserve liberty" with a "Bill of Rights" and other amendments, which guarantee freedom of speech, religion, and the press; the right to a fair trial; the right to keep and bear arms; universal suffrage; and property rights. However, the extent to which these rights are protected and universal in practice is heavily debated. The Constitution also guarantees to every State "a Republican Form of Government". However, the meaning of that guarantee has been only slightly explicated.<ref>http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/data/constitution/article04/</ref>

There are two major political parties: the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. The Republicans are generally socially conservative and economically classical-liberals with some right-leaning centrists. The Democrats are generally socially liberal and economically progressive with some left-leaning centrists. Growing numbers of Americans identify with neither party—with some claiming the title Independent and others joining emerging parties, including the Green, Libertarian, and Reform parties. Except for a Democrat plurality in the Senate in 2001–02,<ref>Secretary of the Senate. United States Senate Art & History: Party Division in the United States Senate, 1789—Present. Retrieved 21 June 2006.</ref> the Republican Party has held the majority in both houses of Congress since the 1994 elections; since 2001, the President has been George W. Bush, a Republican.

Foreign relations and military


The United States has vast economic, political, and military influence on a global scale, which makes its foreign policy a subject of great interest and discussion around the world. Almost all countries have embassies in Washington, D.C., and consulates around the country. However, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Sudan do not have formal diplomatic relations with the United States.<ref>"Table 2 Aliens From Countries That Sponsor Terrorism Who Were Ordered Removed - 1 October 2000 through 31 December 2001". February 2003. U.S. Department of Justice. URL accessed May 30, 2006.</ref> The United States is a founding member of the United Nations (with a permanent seat on the Security Council), among many other international organizations.

In 1949, in an effort to contain communism during the Cold War, the United States, Canada, and ten Western European nations formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, a mutual-defense alliance in which they have since been joined by 14 other European states—including Turkey, which straddles the Eurasian border, and some former Soviet states. In an example of realpolitik, the United States also established diplomatic relations with Communist countries that were antagonistic to the Soviet Union, like the People's Republic of China during the Sino-Soviet split. Recently, the foreign policy of the United States has focused on combating terrorism as well as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Other transnational issues include immigration reform and the shipment of illegal drugs into the country.<ref name=ISSUES>"Transnational Issues". 20 April 2006. CIA World factbook. Accessed 30 April 2006.</ref>

Image:USS Nimitz 1997.jpg
Supercarriers like the USS Nimitz are a major component of the U.S. system of force projection.

The United States has a long-standing tradition of civilian control over military affairs. The Department of Defense administers the U.S. armed forces, which comprise the Army, the Navy, 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 times of war.

The military of the United States comprises 1.4 million personnel on active duty,<ref>"Active Duty Military Personnel Strength Levels". 2002. Accessed 2 May 2006.</ref> along with several hundred thousand each in the Reserves and the National Guard. Service in the military is voluntary, though conscription may occur in times of war through the Selective Service System. The United States is considered to have the most powerful military in the world, partly because of the size of its defense budget; American defense expenditures in 2005 were estimated to be greater than the next 14 largest national military budgets combined,<ref>Anup Shah, High Military Expenditure in Some Places. Last updated 27 March, 2006. globalissues.org. Retrieved 30 June, 2006.</ref> even though the U.S. military budget is only about 4% of the country's gross domestic product.<ref>Military. 1 June 2006. CIA Factbook. Retrieved 3 June 2006.</ref><ref>Template:Cite web</ref> The U.S. military maintains over 700 bases and facilities on every continent except Antarctica.<ref>U.S. Department of Defense Base Structure Report, Fiscal Year 2005 Baseline. Retrieved 1 June 2006.</ref>

The American military is committed to having a technological edge over its potential enemies and has an extensive research program to maintain such an edge. Defense-related research over the years yielded such major breakthroughs as space exploration, the Internet, nuclear power, the Global Positioning System, stealth aircraft, "smart" weapons, better bullet-proof vests, microwaves, and more recently ground-based lasers intended to target and destroy inbound missiles. These force multipliers have traditionally borne more material expense than personnel expense. Military technology maintains a close relationship with the civilian economy and has contributed to general technological and economic development of the United States, and often, via technology transfer, other countries as well. Conversely, the military has also benefited from the American civilian infrastructure.

Administrative divisions


Image:Map of USA with state names.svg
Map of United States, showing state names.<ref>Alaska and Hawaii are shown at different scales; the Aleutian Islands and the uninhabited Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are omitted from this map.</ref>

The conterminous, or contiguous, forty-eight states—all the states but Alaska and Hawaii—are also called the continental United States. Some include Alaska in the "continental" states, because, although it is separated from the "lower forty-eight" by Canada, it is part of the North American mainland. All of these terms commonly include the District of Columbia. Hawaii, the fiftieth state, occupies an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean.

The United States also holds several other territories, districts, and possessions, notably the federal district of the District of Columbia—which contains the nation's capital city, Washington—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. Palmyra Atoll is the United States' only incorporated territory; but it is unorganized and uninhabited. The United States Minor Outlying Islands consist of uninhabited islands and atolls in the Pacific and Caribbean Sea. In addition, since 1898, the United States Navy has leased an extensive naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Former U.S. possessions include the Panama Canal Zone, which was a U.S. territory from 1903 until 1979. Additionally, the Philippine Islands were American territory from 1898 until 1935, when the United States established the Commonwealth of the Philippines as a transition between territorial status and full Philippine independence, which occurred in 1946. Because it was part of the United States at the time of World War II, the Philippines is the only independent nation with a memorial pillar at the National World War II Memorial in Washington, DC.

In addition to the actual states and territories of the United States, there are also nations which are associated states of the U.S. The Federated States of Micronesia (since 1986), Palau (since 1994), and the Marshall Islands (since 1986) are associated with the United States under what is known as the Compact of Free Association, giving the states international sovereignty and ultimate control over their territory. However, the governments of those areas have agreed to allow the United States to provide defense and financial assistance. The U.S. also treats these nations uniquely by giving them access to many U.S. domestic programs, including disaster response and recovery and hazard mitigation programs under FEMA. The freely associated states are all dependent on U.S. financial assistance to meet both government operational and capital needs. The Office of Insular Affairs administers this financial assistance. The freely associated states also actively participate in all Office of Insular Affairs technical assistance activities. Together with the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, each of these associated states were once part of the U.S.-administered UN Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, which existed from 1947 until 1986 in the case of the Marshall Islands, the Northern Marianas, and the Federated States of Micronesia; Palau's trusteeship ended in 1994.


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The Bald Eagle is on the Great Seal of the United States. Protection of this once endangered species has helped save it from extinction.

The U.S. has over 17,000 identified native plant and tree species, including 5,000 just in California (which is home to the tallest, the most massive, and the oldest trees in the world).<ref>Morse, Larry E., et al, Native Vascular Plants, Our Living Resources, U.S. Department of the Interior, URL accessed 14 June 2006.</ref> With habitats ranging from tropical to arctic, the flora of the U.S. is the most diverse of any country; yet, thousands of non-native exotic species sometimes adversely affect indigenous plant and animal communities. Over 400 species of mammal, 700 species of bird, 500 species of reptile and amphibian, and 90,000 species of insect have been documented.<ref>National Biological Service, Our Living Resources, URL accessed 14 June 2006.</ref> Many plants and animals are very localized in their distribution, and some are in danger of extinction. The U.S. passed the Endangered Species Act in 1973 to protect native plant and animal species and their habitats.

Conservation has a long history in the U.S.; in 1872, the world's first National Park was established at Yellowstone. Another 57 national parks and hundreds of other federally managed parks and forests have since been designated.<ref>National Park Service, National Park Service Announces Addition of Two New Units, National Park Service News release (28 February 2006), URL accessed 13 June 2006.</ref> In some parts of the country, wilderness areas have been established to ensure long-term protection of pristine habitats. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service monitors endangered and threatened species and has set aside numerous areas for species and habitat preservation. Altogether, the U.S. government regulates 1,020,779 square miles (2,643,807 km²), which is 28.8% of the total land area of the U.S.<ref>Republican Study Committee, Federal Land and Buildings Ownership, (19 May 2005), URL accessed 13 June 2006.</ref> The bulk of this land is protected park and forestland, but some is leased for oil and gas exploration, mining, and cattle ranching.


Template:Main The economic history of the United States is a story of economic growth that began with marginally successful colonial economies and progressed to the largest industrial economy in the world in the 20th and early 21st century.

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Wall Street, in New York City, represents the status of the U.S. as a major global financial power.

The economic system of the United States can be described as a capitalist mixed economy, in which corporations, other private firms, and individuals make most microeconomic decisions, and governments prefer to take a smaller role in the domestic economy, although the combined role of all levels of government is relatively large, at 36% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The U.S. has a small social safety net, and regulation of businesses is slightly less than the average of developed countries.<ref>Index of Economic Freedom 2006 by Heritage Foundation. URL accessed 13 May 2006.</ref> The United States' median household income in 2005 was $43,318.<ref name="US Census Bureau news release in regards to median income">Template:Cite web</ref>

Economic activity varies greatly across the country. For example, New York City is the center of the American financial, publishing, broadcasting, and advertising industries, while Los Angeles is the most important center for film and television production. The San Francisco Bay Area and the Pacific Northwest are major centers for technology. The Midwest is known for its reliance on manufacturing and heavy industry, with Detroit serving as the historic center of the American automotive industry, and Chicago serving as the business and financial capital of the region. The Southeast is a major area for agriculture, tourism, and the lumber industry, and, because of wages and costs below the national average, it continues to attract manufacturing.

Image:Farming near Klingerstown, Pennsylvania.jpg
A farm near Klingerstown, Pennsylvania. Farming accounts for less than 1% of the total GDP of the United States but still is a major economic activity.

The largest sector in the United States economy is services, which employs roughly three quarters of the work force.<ref>"Toward a Learning Economy" by Stephen A. Herzenberg, John A. Alic, and Howard Wial. 2006. Toward a Learning Economy. URL accessed 3 May 2006.</ref>

The economy is fueled by an abundance in natural resources such as coal, petroleum, and precious metals. However, the country still depends for much of its energy on foreign countries. In agriculture, the country is a top producer of corn, soy beans, rice, and wheat, with the Great Plains labeled as the "breadbasket of the world" for its tremendous agricultural output.<ref>Frazier, Ian. Great Plains. Page 9. 4 May 2001. Picador; 1st Picado edition. ISBN 0-312-27850-0</ref> The U.S. has a large tourist industry, ranking third in the world,<ref>The United States International Travel Industry- Key Facts About Inbound Tourism. 8 May 2000. ITA Office of Travel & Tourism Industries. URL accessed 3 May 2006.</ref> and is also a major exporter in goods such as airplanes, steel, weapons, and electronics. Canada accounts for 19% (more than any other nation) of the United States' foreign trade, followed by China, Mexico, and Japan.

While the per capita income of the United States is among the highest in the world, the wealth is comparatively concentrated, with approximately 40% of the population earning less than an average resident of western Europe and the top 20% earning substantially more.<ref>Income Distribution in Europe and the United States by A B Atkinson. September 1995. Nuffield College in Oxford. URL accessed June 3, 2006.</ref> Since 1975, the U.S. has a "two-tier" labor market in which virtually all the real income gains have gone to the top 20% of households.<ref>Economy. June 13, 2006. CIA World Factbook. URL accessed June 15, 2006.</ref> This polarization is the result of a relatively high level of economic freedom.<ref>[1]. September 2005. Fraser Institute. Accessed 18 July 2006.</ref>

The social mobility of U.S. residents relative to that of other countries is the subject of much debate. Some analysts have found that social mobility in the United States is low relative to other OECD states, specifically compared to Western Europe, Scandinavia and Canada.<ref>"Ever Higher Society, Ever Harder to Ascend: Whatever Happened to the Belief That Any American Could Get to the Top" The Economist. December 29, 2004. URL accessed 21 August 2006.</ref><ref>"Intergenerational Mobility in Europe and North America" Jo Blanden, Paul Gregg, and Stephen Malchin. April 2005. "URL accessed 21 August 2006."</ref><ref>"Do Poor Children Become Poor Adults? Lessons from a Cross Country Comparison of Generational Earnings Mobility" Miles Corak. March 2006. "URL accessed 21 August 2006."</ref> Low social mobility may stem in part from the U.S. educational system. Public education in the United States is funded mainly by local property taxes supplemented by state revenues. This frequently results in a wide difference in funding between poor districts or poor states and more affluent jurisdictions.<ref>"What Research Says About Unequal Funding for Schools in America" Bruce Biddle and David C. Berliner. Winter 2002. "URL accessed 21 August 2006."</ref><ref>"An Economic Perspective on Urban Education" William G. Gale, Meghan McNally, and Janet Rothenberg Pack. June 2003. "URL accessed 21 August 2006."</ref> In addition, the practice of legacy preference at elite universities gives preference to the children of alumni, who are often wealthy. This practice reduces available spaces for better-qualified lower income students.<ref>Alumni ties more important than grades Wall Street Journal</ref> Some analysts argue that relative social mobility in the U.S. peaked in the 1960s and declined rapidly beginning in the 1980s.<ref>New York Times. (Late Edition (East Coast)). New York, N.Y.: May 15, 2005. pg. 1.1</ref> Former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan has also suggested that that the growing income inequality and low class mobility of the U.S. economy may eventually threaten the entire system in the near future.<ref>"Rich-Poor Gap Gaining Attention" Peter Greier. Christian Science Monitor. 14 June 2005. "URL accessed 21 August 2006."</ref>



Image:Space Shuttle Columbia launching.jpg
The Space Shuttle Columbia takes off on a manned mission to space.

The United States is an influential country in scientific and technological research and the production of innovative technological products. During World War II, the U.S. was the first to develop the atomic bomb, ushering in the atomic age. Beginning early the Cold War, the U.S. achieved successes in space science and technology, leading to a space race which led to rapid advances in rocketry, weaponry, material science, computers, and many other areas. This technological progress was epitomized by the first visit of a man to the moon, when Neil Armstrong stepped off of Apollo 11 in July 1969.<ref>Apollo 30th Anniversary. 20 September 2002. NASA. Accessed 2 May 2006.</ref> The U.S. was also the most instrumental nation in the development of the Internet, developing its predecessor, Arpanet. The U.S. also controls most of its infrastructure.

In the sciences, Americans have a large share of Nobel Prizes, especially in the fields of physiology and medicine. The National Institutes of Health, a focal point for biomedical research in the United States, has contributed to the completion of the Human Genome Project.<ref>The National Human Genome Research Institute. 2006. National Human Genome Research Institute- National Institutes of health. Accessed May 2, 2006.</ref> The main governmental organization for aviation and space research is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Major corporations, such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin, also play an important role.


Template:Main The automobile industry developed earlier and more rapidly in the United States than in most other countries. The backbone of the nation's transportation infrastructure is a network of high-capacity highways. From data taken in 2004, there are about 3,981,521 miles (6,407,637 km) of roadways in the U.S., the most in the world.<ref>Rank Order- Roadways. 20 April 2006. CIA World Factbook. Accessed 30 April 2006.</ref>

Mass transit systems exist in large cities, such as New York, which operates one of the busiest subway systems in the world. With a few exceptions, American cities are less dense than those in other parts of the world. Low density partly results from and largely necessitates automobile ownership by most households.

Whereas the freight rail network is among the world's best (and most congested), the passenger rail network is underdeveloped by European and Japanese standards. This is partly because of the longer distances traveled in the U.S.; a destination two thousand miles (3,000 km) away is reached more quickly by air than by rail. Government subsidies of air travel played a role in the bankruptcy of passenger-rail corporations in the 1970s. The U.S. had been unique in its high number of private passenger railroads. During the 1970s, government intervention reorganized freight railroads. The passenger service was consolidated under the government-backed corporation Amtrak. No other country has more miles of rail than the U.S.<ref>https://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/rankorder/2121rank.html</ref>

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 (ATL). 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.

Several major seaports are in the United States; the three busiest are California's Port of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach, and the Port of New York and New Jersey, all among the world's busiest. The interior of the U.S. also has a major shipping channel, via the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Mississippi River. The first water link between the Great Lakes and the Atlantic, the Erie Canal, allowed the rapid expansion of agriculture and industry in the Midwest and made New York City the economic center of the U.S.



Image:US population map.png
2000 Population Density Map

On October 172006 at 7:46 a.m. EST, the United States' population stood at an estimated 300,000,000, with an annual growth rate of about 0.59%.<ref name=POP>People. 12 June 2006. American Fact Finder. Accessed 13 June 2006.</ref> This figure includes persons living in the U.S. without legal permission to do so, estimated at 12 million, and excludes U.S. citizens living abroad, estimated at 3 million to 7 million. Thus any population estimate needs to be seen as a somewhat rough figure, according to the US Departement of Commerce.<ref name="Yahoo, News; rough nature of US population estimates">Template:Cite web</ref> According to the 2000 census, about 79% of the population lived in urban areas.<ref>"United States -- Urban/Rural and Inside/Outside Metropolitan Area". United States Census 2000. URL accessed 29 May 2006.</ref>

About 15.8% of households have annual incomes of at least $100,000, and the top 10% of households had annual gross incomes exceeding $118,200 in 2003.<ref name="Income in the United States, US Census Bureau">Template:Cite web</ref> Overall, the top quintile, those households earning more than $86,867 a year, earned 49.8% of all income in 2003.<ref name="Income distribution, US Census Bureau, 2003">Template:Cite web</ref>

In the 2000 census, the country had 31 ethnic groups with at least one million members each, with numerous others represented in smaller amounts.<ref>Table 2. Ancestries With 100,000 or More People in 2000: 1990 and 2000. Ancestry: 2000 - Census 2000 Brief. URL accessed May 29, 2006.</ref> By the federal government's categorization of race, most Americans (80.4% in 2004)<ref>http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/00000.html</ref> are white. These white Americans are mostly European Americans—the descendants of European immigrants to the United States—along with some non-Europeans counted as white in government nomenclature (those with origins in the original peoples of the Middle East and North Africa). To the exclusion of Hispanic-origin European Americans, non-Hispanic whites constituted 67.4% of the population. The non-Hispanic white population is proportionally declining, because of both immigration by, and a higher birth rate among, ethnic and racial minorities.<ref name="Dealing with Diversity">Template:Cite book</ref> If current immigration trends continue, the number of non-Hispanic whites is expected to be reduced to a plurality by 2040-2050. The largest ethnic group of European ancestry is German at 15.2%, followed by Irish (10.8%), English (8.7%), Italian (5.6%) and Scandinavian (3.7%). Many immigrants also hail from French Canada, as well as from such Slavic countries as Poland and Russia.<ref>Figure 2 - Fifteen Largest Ancestries: 2000. 2000. U.S. Census Bureau. URL accessed 30 May 2006.</ref> African Americans, or Blacks, largely descend from Africans who arrived as slaves during the 17th through 19th centuries, and number about 35 million or 12.9% of the population. At about 1.5% of the total population, Native Americans and Alaska Natives number about 4.4 million,<ref name="Native American population in the United States">Template:Cite web</ref> approximately 35% of whom were living on reservations in 2005.<ref>"Tribal trends" by Douglas Clement. March 2006. fedgazette. URL accessed 3 May 2006.</ref>

Current demographic trends include the immigration of Hispanics from Latin America into the Southwest, a region that is home to about 60% of the 35 million Hispanics in the United States. Immigrants from Mexico make up about 66% of the Hispanic community,<ref>Population & Economic Strength. United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Accessed 2 May 2006.</ref> and are second only to the German-descent population in the single-ethnicity category. The Hispanic population, which has been growing at an annual rate of about 4.46% since the 1990s, is expected to increase significantly in the coming decades, because of both immigration and a higher birth rate among Latinos than among the general population.<ref>"Latino Religion in the U.S.: Demographic Shifts and Trends" by Bruce Murray. January 5, 2006. FacsNet. Accessed 2 May 2006.</ref>

Largest cities


The United States has dozens of major cities, which play an important role in U.S. culture, heritage, and economy. In 2004, 251 incorporated places had populations of at least 100,000 and nine had populations greater than 1,000,000, including several important global cities, such as New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago. In addition, there are fifty metropolitan areas with populations over 1,000,000.

Rank City Population
city limits
per sq mi
millions rank
1 New York City, New York 8,143,197 26,402.9 18.7 1 Northeast
2 Los Angeles, California 4,097,340 8,198.0 12.92West
3 Chicago, Illinois 2,842,518 12,750.3 9.4 3Midwest
4 Houston, Texas 2,016,582 3,371.7 5.2 7South
5 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1,463,281 11,233.6 5.8 4 Northeast
6 Phoenix, Arizona 1,461,575 2,782.0 3.7 14 West
7 San Antonio, Texas 1,256,509 2,808.5 1.8 29 South
8 San Diego, California 1,255,540 3,771.9 2.9 17 West
9 Dallas, Texas 1,213,825 3,469.9 5.7 5 South
10 San Jose, California 912,332 5,117.9 1.7 30 West

Indigenous peoples


The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 gave United States citizenship to Native Americans, in part because of an interest by many to see them merged with the American mainstream, and also because of the heroic service of many Native American veterans in the First World War.

According to the 2003 census estimates, there are 2,786,652 Native Americans in the United States. However, numerous indigenous peoples from Latin American countries, particularly Mexico, have migrated to the U.S. over the years.


Template:Main Although the United States has no official language, English is the de facto national language. In 2003, about 214.8 million, or 81.6%, of the population aged five years and older spoke only English at home.<ref name =EnglishatHome>Template:Cite web</ref> Although not all Americans speak English, it is the most common language for daily interaction among both native and non-native speakers. Knowledge of English is required of immigrants seeking naturalization. Some Americans advocate making English the official language, which is the law in twenty-seven states. Three states also grant official status to other languages alongside English: French in Louisiana, Hawaiian in Hawaii, and Spanish in New Mexico.<ref>27 States Have Made English Official (25 State Laws Still in Effect). Englishfirst.org. URL accessed 21 May 2006.</ref> Besides English, languages spoken at home by at least one million Americans aged five years and up are Spanish or Spanish Creole, spoken by 29.7 million; Chinese, 2.2 million; French (including Patois and Cajun), 1.4 million; Tagalog, 1.3 million; Vietnamese, 1.1 million; and German, 1.1 million.<ref name="Dealing with Diversity">Template:Cite book</ref><ref name="US Census Bureau, languages in the US">Template:Cite web</ref>


Pisgah Baptist Church in Four Oaks, North Carolina. The Bible Belt is well known for its large devout Protestant Christian population.

Template:Main The United States government keeps no official register of Americans' religious status. However, in a private survey conducted in 2001 and mentioned in the Census Bureau's Statistical Abstract of the United States, 76.7% of American adults identified themselves as Christian; about 52% of adults described themselves as members of various Protestant denominations, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1.3%); Roman Catholics, at 24.5%, were the most populous individual sect. Judaism (1.4%) and other faiths also have firm places in American culture. About 14.2% of respondents described themselves as having no religion. The religious distribution of the 5.4% who elected not to describe themselves for the survey is unknown.<ref name=POP>Self-Described Religious Identification of Adult Population: 1990 and 2001. U.S. Census Bureau's Statistical Abstract of the United States, 2006.</ref>

Religion among some Americans is highly dynamic: over the period 1990–2001, those groups whose portion of the population at least doubled were, in descending order of growth, Wiccans, nondenominational Christians, Deists, Sikhs, Evangelical Christians, Disciples of Christ, New Age adherents, Hindus, Full Gospel adherents, Quakers, Bahá'ís, independent Christians, those who refused to answer the question, Buddhists, and Foursquare Gospel adherents.<ref name=POP>Self-Described Religious Identification of Adult Population: 1990 and 2001. U.S. Census Bureau's Statistical Abstract of the United States, 2006.</ref>


Template:Main Education in the United States has been a state or local, not federal, responsibility. The Department of Education of the federal government, however, exerts some influence through its ability to control funding. Students are generally obliged to attend school starting with kindergarten, and ending with the 12th grade, which is normally completed at age 18, but many states may allow students to drop out as early as age 16. Besides public schools, parents may also choose to educate their own children at home or to send their children to parochial or private schools. After high school, students may choose to attend universities, either public or private. Public universities receive funding from the federal and state governments, as well as from other sources, but most students still have to pay student loans after graduation. Tuition at private universities is generally much higher than at public universities.

America's 19 World Heritage Sites include the University of Virginia, one of many highly regarded public universities supported by taxpayers at the state level of government.

There are many competitive institutions of higher education in the United States, both private and public. The United States has 168 universities in the world's top 500, 17 of which are in the top 20.<ref>ARWU2005 Statistics by Shanghai Jiao Tong university. URL accessed on 05 October 2006</ref> There are also many smaller universities and liberal arts colleges, and local community colleges of varying quality across the country with open admission policies.

The United States ranks 24th out of 29 surveyed countries in the reading and science literacy as well as mathematical abilities of its high school students when compared with other developed nations.<ref>Programme for International Student Assessment 2003, URL accessed on July 11, 2006</ref> The United States also has a low literacy rate compared to other developed countries, with a reading literacy rate at 86 - 98% of the population over age 15.<ref name=EDU>A First Look at the Literacy of America’s Adults in the 21st Century, U.S. Department of Education, 2003. Accessed 05 October 2006. 2% of the population still do not have basic literacy and 14% have Below Basic prose literacy.</ref> As for educational attainment, 27.2% of the population aged 25 and above have earned a bachelor's degree or higher, and 84.6% have graduated high school.<ref name="Educational attainment according to the US Census Bureau, 2003">Template:Cite web</ref>


Template:Main The World Health Organization ranks the United States' health level 72nd among the world's nations.<ref>"Health system performance in all Member States" 1997. World Health Organization. Accessed 05 October 2006.</ref> Overall statistics provided by the CIA World Factbook indicate that the United States had a higher infant mortality rate and slightly lower life expectancy than other post-industrial western nations such as Sweden,<ref name="CIA Factbook, Sweden health">Template:Cite web</ref> Germany<ref name="CIA factbook, Germany health">Template:Cite web</ref> or France.<ref name="CIA factbook, France health">Template:Cite web</ref><ref name="CIA factbook, US health">Template:Cite web</ref> Ironically, the average salary of a physician in the US is the highest in the world. <ref>[2]</ref> Obesity is also a public-health problem, which is estimated to cost tens of billions of dollars every year.<ref>"Obesity cost US $75bn, says study" by Jannat Jalil. 21 January 2004. BBC News. URL accessed 05 October 2006.</ref>

Unlike many Western governments, the U.S. government does not operate a publicly funded health care system. Private insurance plays a major role in covering health care costs.<ref>http://www.urban.org/publications/307319.html Health Policy for Low-Income People in Texas</ref> Health insurance in the United States is traditionally a benefit of some kinds of employment. However, emergency care facilities are required to provide service regardless of the patient's ability to pay. Medical bills are the most common reason for personal bankruptcy in the United States.<ref>"Illness And Injury As Contributors To Bankruptcy", by David U. Himmelstein, Elizabeth Warren, Deborah Thorne, and Steffie Woolhandler, published at Health Affairs journal in 2005, Accessed 05 October 2006.</ref> The nation spends a substantial amount on medical research through such federal agencies as the National Institutes of Health.<ref name=HEALTH>Chapter Seven A REPUBLIC OF SCIENCE- Inquiry and innovation in science and medicine. USINFO.STATE.GOV. Accessed 05 October 2006.</ref>



Image:Motherhood and apple pie.jpg
American cultural icons, such as apple pie, baseball, and the American flag.

The culture of the United States began as the culture of its first English colonists. The culture quickly evolved as an independent frontier culture supplemented by indigenous and Spanish–Mexican cowboy culture and by the cultures of subsequent waves of immigrants, first from Europe and Africa and later from Asia. Overall, significant cultural influences came from Europe, especially from the German, English and Irish cultures and later from Italian, Greek and Ashkenazi cultures. Descendants of enslaved West Africans preserved some cultural traditions from West Africa in the early United States. Geographical place names largely reflect the combined English, Dutch, French, Spanish, and Native American components of U.S. American history.<ref name="Dealing with Diversity">Template:Cite book</ref>

Some have described the United States as a melting pot in which immigrants eventually assimilate into a unified American culture that incorporates contributions from immigrant cultures. A more recently proposed model is that of the salad bowl, in which immigrant cultures retain some of the unique characteristics of their culture without merging into a completely unified American culture.<ref>Joyce Millet, Understanding American Culture: From Melting Pot to Salad Bowl. culturalsavvy.com. Accessed 05 October 2006.</ref> Modern American sociologists tend to view pluralism, rather than assimilation, as the way for American society to achieve ethnic and racial harmony and state that the workings of pluralism are visible within modern American society, disregarding the idea of the melting pot.<ref name="Dealing with Diversity">Template:Cite book</ref>

An important component of American culture is the American Dream: the idea that, through hard work, courage, and self-determination, regardless of social class, a person can gain a better life.<ref>Boritt, Gabor S. Lincoln and the Economics of the American Dream. Page 1. December 1994. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0-252-06445-3.</ref>


Template:Main American cuisine embraces Native American ingredients such as turkey, potatoes, corn, and squash, which have become integral parts of American culture. Such popular icons as apple pie, pizza, and hamburgers are either derived from or are actual European dishes. Burritos and tacos have their origins in Mexico. Soul food, which originated among African slaves, is popular in the U.S. as well. However, many foods now enjoyed worldwide either originated in the United States or were altered by American chefs.


Template:Main Music also traces to the country's diverse cultural roots through an array of styles. Rock, hip hop, country, blues, and jazz are among the country's most internationally renowned genres. Since the late 19th century, popular recorded music from the United States has become increasingly known across the world, such that some forms of American popular music are heard almost everywhere.<ref>Provine, Rob with Okon Hwang and Andy Kershaw. "Our Life Is Precisely a Song" in the Rough Guide to World Music, Volume 2, pg. 167. ISBN 1-85828-636-0.</ref>


Template:Main The birth of cinema, as well as its development, largely took place in the United States. In 1878, the first recorded instance of sequential photographs capturing and reproducing motion was Eadweard Muybridge's series of a running horse, which the British-born photographer produced in Palo Alto, California, using a row of still cameras. Since then, the American film industry, based in Hollywood, California, has had a profound effect on cinema across the world. Other genres that originated in the United States and spread worldwide include the comic book and Disney's animated films.



Image:2006 Pro Bowl tackle.jpg
Pro Bowl, 2006. American Football is the most popular spectator sport in the United States.<ref>Maccambridge, Michael. America's Game : The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation. 26 October 2004. Random House. ISBN 0-375-50454-0</ref>

Sports are a national pastime, and playing sports, especially American football, baseball, and basketball, is very popular at the high school level. Professional sports in the U.S. is big business and contains most of the world's highest paid athletes.<ref>"The Best-Paid Athletes". 24 June 2004. Forbes.com. Accessed 2 May 2006.</ref> The "Big Four" sports are baseball, American football, ice hockey, and basketball. Baseball is popularly termed "the national pastime"; but, since the early 1990s, American football has largely been considered the most popular sport in America.

Other sports, including auto racing, lacrosse, soccer, golf, and tennis, have significant followings. The United States is among the most influential regions in shaping three popular board-based recreational sports: surfboarding, skateboarding, and snowboarding. Eight Olympiads have taken place in the United States; in medals won, the United States ranks third all-time in the Winter Games, with 218 (78 gold, 81 silver, and 59 bronze),<ref>All-Time Medal Standings, 1924–2002. Information Please. Accessed 14 September 2006.</ref><ref>Turin 2006 Medal Table. Accessed 14 September 2006.</ref> and first in the Summer Games, with 2,321 (943 gold, 736 silver, and 642 bronze).<ref>All-Time Medal Standings 1896–2000. Information Please. Accessed 14 September 2006.</ref><ref>Athens 2004 Medal Table. Accessed 14 September 2006.</ref>

Template:See also

See also

Template:Main Template:Life in the United States Template:Demographics of the United States



Further reading


External links









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