United States

Introduction Britain's American colonies broke with the mother country in 1776 and were recognized as the new nation of the United States of America following the Treaty of Paris in 1783. During the 19th and 20th centuries, 37 new states were added to the original 13 as the nation expanded across the North American continent and acquired a number of overseas possessions. The two most traumatic experiences in the nation's history were the Civil War (1861-65), in which a northern Union of states defeated a secessionist Confederacy of 11 southern slave states, and the Great Depression of the 1930s, an economic downturn during which about a quarter of the labor force lost its jobs. Buoyed by victories in World Wars I and II and the end of the Cold War in 1991, the US remains the world's most powerful nation state. The economy is marked by steady growth, low unemployment and inflation, and rapid advances in technology.
History

The indigenous peoples of the U.S. mainland, including Alaska Natives, migrated from Asia. They began arriving at least 12,000 and as many as 40,000 years ago. Some, such as the pre-Columbian Mississippian culture, developed advanced agriculture, grand architecture, and state-level societies. After Europeans began settling the Americas, many millions of indigenous Americans died from epidemics of imported diseases such as smallpox.

In 1492, Genoese explorer Christopher Columbus, under contract to the Spanish crown, reached several Caribbean islands, making first contact with the indigenous people. On April 2, 1513, Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León landed on what he called "La Florida"—the first documented European arrival on what would become the U.S. mainland. Of Spain's settlements in the region, only St. Augustine, founded in 1565, remains. Later Spanish settlements in the present-day southwestern United States drew thousands through Mexico. French fur traders established outposts of New France around the Great Lakes; France eventually claimed much of the North American interior, down to the Gulf of Mexico. The first successful English settlements were the Virginia Colony in Jamestown in 1607 and the Pilgrims' Plymouth Colony in 1620. The 1628 chartering of the Massachusetts Bay Colony resulted in a wave of migration; by 1634, New England had been settled by some 10,000 Puritans. Between the late 1610s and the American Revolution, about 50,000 convicts were shipped to Britain's American colonies. Beginning in 1614, the Dutch settled along the lower Hudson River, including New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island.

In 1674, the Dutch ceded their American territory to England; the province of New Netherland was renamed New York. Many new immigrants, especially to the South, were indentured servants—some two-thirds of all Virginia immigrants between 1630 and 1680. By the turn of the century, African slaves were becoming the primary source of bonded labor. With the 1729 division of the Carolinas and the 1732 colonization of Georgia, the thirteen British colonies that would become the United States of America were established. All had local governments with elections open to most free men, with a growing devotion to the ancient rights of Englishmen and a sense of self-government stimulating support for republicanism. All legalized the African slave trade. With high birth rates, low death rates, and steady immigration, the colonial population grew rapidly. The Christian revivalist movement of the 1730s and 1740s known as the Great Awakening fueled interest in both religion and religious liberty. In the French and Indian War, British forces seized Canada from the French, but the francophone population remained politically isolated from the southern colonies. Excluding the Native Americans (popularly known as "American Indians"), who were being displaced, those thirteen colonies had a population of 2.6 million in 1770, about one-third that of Britain; nearly one in five Americans were black slaves. Though subject to British taxation, the American colonials had no representation in the Parliament of Great Britain.

Independence and expansion

Tensions between American colonials and the British during the revolutionary period of the 1760s and early 1770s led to the American Revolutionary War, fought from 1775 through 1781. On June 14, 1775, the Continental Congress, convening in Philadelphia, established a Continental Army under the command of George Washington. Proclaiming that "all men are created equal" and endowed with "certain unalienable Rights," the Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, drafted largely by Thomas Jefferson, on July 4, 1776. That date is now celebrated annually as America's Independence Day. In 1777, the Articles of Confederation established a weak federal government that operated until 1789.

After the British defeat by American forces who were assisted by the French, Great Britain recognized the independence of the United States and the states' sovereignty over American territory west to the Mississippi River. A constitutional convention was organized in 1787 by those wishing to establish a strong national government, with powers of taxation. The United States Constitution was ratified in 1788, and the new republic's first Senate, House of Representatives, and president—George Washington—took office in 1789. The Bill of Rights, forbidding federal restriction of personal freedoms and guaranteeing a range of legal protections, was adopted in 1791.

Attitudes toward slavery were shifting; a clause in the Constitution protected the African slave trade only until 1808. The Northern states abolished slavery between 1780 and 1804, leaving the slave states of the South as defenders of the "peculiar institution." The Second Great Awakening, beginning about 1800, made evangelicalism a force behind various social reform movements, including abolitionism.

Territorial acquisitions by date

Americans' eagerness to expand westward prompted a long series of Indian Wars and an Indian removal policy that stripped the native peoples of their land. The Louisiana Purchase of French-claimed territory under President Thomas Jefferson in 1803 almost doubled the nation's size. The War of 1812, declared against Britain over various grievances and fought to a draw, strengthened U.S. nationalism. A series of U.S. military incursions into Florida led Spain to cede it and other Gulf Coast territory in 1819. The U.S. annexed the Republic of Texas in 1845. The concept of Manifest Destiny was popularized during this time. The 1846 Oregon Treaty with Britain led to U.S. control of the present-day American Northwest. The U.S. victory in the Mexican-American War resulted in the 1848 cession of California and much of the present-day American Southwest. The California Gold Rush of 1848–49 further spurred western migration. New railways made relocation easier for settlers and increased conflicts with Native Americans. Over a half-century, up to 40 million American bison, or buffalo, were slaughtered for skins and meat and to ease the railways' spread. The loss of the buffalo, a primary resource for the plains Indians, was an existential blow to many native cultures.

Civil War and industrialization

Tensions between slave and free states mounted with arguments over the relationship between the state and federal governments, as well as violent conflicts over the spread of slavery into new states. Abraham Lincoln, candidate of the largely antislavery Republican Party, was elected president in 1860. Before he took office, seven slave states declared their secession—which the federal government maintained was illegal—and formed the Confederate States of America. With the Confederate attack upon Fort Sumter, the American Civil War began and four more slave states joined the Confederacy. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation committed the Union to ending slavery. Following the Union victory in 1865, three amendments to the U.S. Constitution ensured freedom for the nearly four million African Americans who had been slaves, made them citizens, and gave them voting rights. The war and its resolution led to a substantial increase in federal power.

After the war, the assassination of Lincoln radicalized Republican Reconstruction policies aimed at reintegrating and rebuilding the Southern states while ensuring the rights of the newly freed slaves. The resolution of the disputed 1876 presidential election by the Compromise of 1877 ended Reconstruction; Jim Crow laws soon disenfranchised many African Americans. In the North, urbanization and an unprecedented influx of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe hastened the country's industrialization. The wave of immigration, lasting until 1929, provided labor and transformed American culture. High tariff protections, national infrastructure building, and new banking regulations encouraged growth. The 1867 Alaska purchase from Russia completed the country's mainland expansion. The Wounded Knee massacre in 1890 was the last major armed conflict of the Indian Wars. In 1893, the indigenous monarchy of the Pacific Kingdom of Hawaii was overthrown in a coup led by American residents; the U.S. annexed the archipelago in 1898. Victory in the Spanish-American War the same year demonstrated that the U.S. was a world power and led to the annexation of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. The Philippines gained independence a half-century later; Puerto Rico and Guam remain U.S. territories.

World War I, Great Depression, and World War II

At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the United States remained neutral. Most Americans sympathized with the British and French, although many opposed intervention. In 1917, the U.S. joined the Allies, turning the tide against the Central Powers. After the war, the Senate did not ratify the Treaty of Versailles, which established the League of Nations. The country pursued a policy of unilateralism, verging on isolationism. In 1920, the women's rights movement won passage of a constitutional amendment granting women's suffrage. The prosperity of the Roaring Twenties ended with the Wall Street Crash of 1929 that triggered the Great Depression. After his election as president in 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt responded with the New Deal, a range of policies increasing government intervention in the economy. The Dust Bowl of the mid-1930s impoverished many farming communities and spurred a new wave of western migration.

The U.S., effectively neutral during World War II's early stages after Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland in September 1939, began supplying materiel to the Allies in March 1941 through the Lend-Lease program. On December 7, 1941, the U.S. joined the Allies against the Axis powers after a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan. World War II cost far more money than any other war in American history, but it boosted the economy by providing capital investment and jobs. Among the major combatants, the U.S. was the only nation to become richer—indeed, far richer—instead of poorer because of the war. Allied conferences at Bretton Woods and Yalta outlined a new system of international organizations that placed the U.S. and Soviet Union at the center of world affairs. As victory was won in Europe, a 1945 international conference held in San Francisco produced the United Nations Charter, which became active after the war. The U.S., having developed the first nuclear weapons, used them on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August. Japan surrendered on September 2, ending the war.

Cold War and civil rights

The United States and Soviet Union jockeyed for power after World War II during the Cold War, dominating the military affairs of Europe through NATO and the Warsaw Pact. The U.S. promoted liberal democracy and capitalism, while the Soviet Union promoted communism and a centrally planned economy. Both supported dictatorships and engaged in proxy wars. American troops fought Communist Chinese forces in the Korean War of 1950–53. The House Un-American Activities Committee pursued a series of investigations into suspected leftist subversion, while Senator Joseph McCarthy became the figurehead of anticommunist sentiment.

The 1961 Soviet launch of the first manned spaceflight prompted President John F. Kennedy's call for the U.S. to be first to land "a man on the moon," achieved in 1969. Kennedy also faced a tense nuclear showdown with Soviet forces in Cuba. Meanwhile, the U.S. experienced sustained economic expansion. A growing civil rights movement, led by African Americans such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., fought segregation and discrimination. Following Kennedy's assassination in 1963, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 were passed under President Lyndon B. Johnson. Johnson and his successor, Richard Nixon, expanded a proxy war in Southeast Asia into the unsuccessful Vietnam War. A widespread countercultural movement grew, fueled by opposition to the war, black nationalism, and the sexual revolution. Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and others led a new wave of feminism that sought political, social, and economic equality for women.

As a result of the Watergate scandal, in 1974 Nixon became the first U.S. president to resign, rather than be impeached on charges including obstruction of justice and abuse of power; he was succeeded by Vice President Gerald Ford. The Jimmy Carter administration of the late 1970s was marked by stagflation and the Iran hostage crisis. The election of Ronald Reagan as president in 1980 heralded a significant rightward shift in American politics, reflected in major changes in taxation and spending priorities. His second term in office brought both the Iran-Contra scandal and significant diplomatic progress with the Soviet Union. The subsequent Soviet collapse ended the Cold War.

Contemporary era

The leadership role taken by the United States and its allies in the UN–sanctioned Gulf War, under President George H. W. Bush, and the Yugoslav wars, under President Bill Clinton, helped to preserve its position as a superpower. The longest economic expansion in modern U.S. history—from March 1991 to March 2001—encompassed the Clinton administration and the dot-com bubble. A civil lawsuit and sexual scandal led to Clinton's impeachment in 1998, but he remained in office. The 2000 presidential election, one of the closest in U.S. history, was resolved by a U.S. Supreme Court decision—George W. Bush, son of George H. W. Bush, became president.

On September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda terrorists struck the World Trade Center in New York City and The Pentagon near Washington, D.C., killing nearly three thousand people. In response, President Bush launched the War on Terrorism. In late 2001, U.S. forces led an invasion of Afghanistan, removing the Taliban government and al-Qaeda training camps. Taliban insurgents continue to fight a guerrilla war. In 2002, the Bush administration began to press for regime change in Iraq on controversial grounds. Lacking the support of NATO or an explicit UN mandate for military intervention, Bush organized a Coalition of the Willing; coalition forces preemptively invaded Iraq in 2003, removing President Saddam Hussein. The Iraq War, now opposed by most Americans, continues. Amnesty International has criticized the U.S. for human rights violations in its pursuit of the War on Terrorism and the Iraq War. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina caused severe destruction along much of the Gulf Coast, devastating New Orleans. On November 4, 2008, amid a major economic crisis, the country elected Barack Obama as president. When he is inaugurated on January 20, 2009, he will become the first African American to hold the office.

Geography Location: North America, bordering both the North Atlantic Ocean and the North Pacific Ocean, between Canada and Mexico
Geographic coordinates: 38 00 N, 97 00 W
Map references: North America
Area: total: 9,826,630 sq km
land: 9,161,923 sq km
water: 664,707 sq km
note: includes only the 50 states and District of Columbia
Area - comparative: about half the size of Russia; about three-tenths the size of Africa; about half the size of South America (or slightly larger than Brazil); slightly larger than China; more than twice the size of the European Union
Land boundaries: total: 12,034 km
border countries: Canada 8,893 km (including 2,477 km with Alaska), Mexico 3,141 km
note: US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba is leased by the US and is part of Cuba; the base boundary is 28 km
Coastline: 19,924 km
Maritime claims: territorial sea: 12 nm
contiguous zone: 24 nm
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
continental shelf: not specified
Climate: mostly temperate, but tropical in Hawaii and Florida, arctic in Alaska, semiarid in the great plains west of the Mississippi River, and arid in the Great Basin of the southwest; low winter temperatures in the northwest are ameliorated occasionally in January and February by warm chinook winds from the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains
Terrain: vast central plain, mountains in west, hills and low mountains in east; rugged mountains and broad river valleys in Alaska; rugged, volcanic topography in Hawaii
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Death Valley -86 m
highest point: Mount McKinley 6,198 m
Natural resources: coal, copper, lead, molybdenum, phosphates, uranium, bauxite, gold, iron, mercury, nickel, potash, silver, tungsten, zinc, petroleum, natural gas, timber
note: the US has the world's largest coal reserves with 491 billion short tons accounting for 27% of the world's total
Land use: arable land: 18.01%
permanent crops: 0.21%
other: 81.78% (2005)
Irrigated land: 223,850 sq km (2003)
Total renewable water resources: 3,069 cu km (1985)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural): total: 477 cu km/yr (13%/46%/41%)
per capita: 1,600 cu m/yr (2000)
Natural hazards: tsunamis, volcanoes, and earthquake activity around Pacific Basin; hurricanes along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts; tornadoes in the midwest and southeast; mud slides in California; forest fires in the west; flooding; permafrost in northern Alaska, a major impediment to development
Environment - current issues: air pollution resulting in acid rain in both the US and Canada; the US is the largest single emitter of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels; water pollution from runoff of pesticides and fertilizers; limited natural fresh water resources in much of the western part of the country require careful management; desertification
Environment - international agreements: party to: Air Pollution, Air Pollution-Nitrogen Oxides, Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Seals, Antarctic Treaty, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Marine Dumping, Marine Life Conservation, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, Whaling
signed, but not ratified: Air Pollution-Persistent Organic Pollutants, Air Pollution-Volatile Organic Compounds, Biodiversity, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Hazardous Wastes
Geography - note: world's third-largest country by size (after Russia and Canada) and by population (after China and India); Mt. McKinley is highest point in North America and Death Valley the lowest point on the continent
Politics

The United States has operated under a two-party system for most of its history. For elective offices at all levels, state-administered primary elections choose the major party nominees for subsequent general elections. Since the general election of 1856, the major parties have been the Democratic Party, founded in 1824, and the Republican Party, founded in 1854. Since the Civil War, only one third-party presidential candidate—former president Theodore Roosevelt, running as a Progressive in 1912—has won as much as 20% of the popular vote.

Within American political culture, the Republican Party is considered "center-right" or conservative and the Democratic Party is considered "center-left" or liberal. The states of the Northeast and West Coast and some of the Great Lakes states, known as "blue states", are relatively liberal. The "red states" of the South and much of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains are relatively conservative. A plurality of Americans identify as Democrats, yet significantly more Americans identify as conservative than liberal.

The incumbent president, Republican George W. Bush, is the 43rd U.S. president. All presidents to date have been men of European descent. After winning the 2008 presidential election, Democrat Barack Obama will be the first president of mixed European and African descent. The 2008 elections also saw the Democratic Party strengthen its control of both the House and the Senate. Every member of the U.S. Congress is a Democrat or a Republican except two independent members of the Senate. An overwhelming majority of state and local officials are also Democrats or Republicans.

People Population: 303,824,640 (July 2008 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 20.1% (male 31,257,108/female 29,889,645)
15-64 years: 67.1% (male 101,825,901/female 102,161,823)
65 years and over: 12.7% (male 16,263,255/female 22,426,914) (2008 est.)
Median age: total: 36.7 years
male: 35.4 years
female: 38.1 years (2008 est.)
Population growth rate: 0.883% (2008 est.)
Birth rate: 14.18 births/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Death rate: 8.27 deaths/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Net migration rate: 2.92 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.05 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.72 male(s)/female
total population: 0.97 male(s)/female (2008 est.)
Infant mortality rate: total: 6.3 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 6.95 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 5.62 deaths/1,000 live births (2008 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 78.14 years
male: 75.29 years
female: 81.13 years (2008 est.)
Total fertility rate: 2.1 children born/woman (2008 est.)
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate: 0.6% (2003 est.)
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS: 950,000 (2003 est.)
HIV/AIDS - deaths: 17,011 (2005 est.)
Nationality: noun: American(s)
adjective: American
Ethnic groups: white 79.96%, black 12.85%, Asian 4.43%, Amerindian and Alaska native 0.97%, native Hawaiian and other Pacific islander 0.18%, two or more races 1.61% (July 2007 estimate)
note: a separate listing for Hispanic is not included because the US Census Bureau considers Hispanic to mean a person of Latin American descent (including persons of Cuban, Mexican, or Puerto Rican origin) living in the US who may be of any race or ethnic group (white, black, Asian, etc.); about 15.1% of the total US population is Hispanic
Religions: Protestant 51.3%, Roman Catholic 23.9%, Mormon 1.7%, other Christian 1.6%, Jewish 1.7%, Buddhist 0.7%, Muslim 0.6%, other or unspecified 2.5%, unaffiliated 12.1%, none 4% (2007 est.)
Languages: English 82.1%, Spanish 10.7%, other Indo-European 3.8%, Asian and Pacific island 2.7%, other 0.7% (2000 census)
note: Hawaiian is an official language in the state of Hawaii
Literacy: definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 99%
male: 99%
female: 99% (2003 est.)
School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education): total: 16 years
male: 15 years
female: 16 years (2006)
Education expenditures: 5.3% of GDP (2005)
Government Country name: conventional long form: United States of America
conventional short form: United States
abbreviation: US or USA
Government type: Constitution-based federal republic; strong democratic tradition
Capital: name: Washington, DC
geographic coordinates: 38 53 N, 77 02 W
time difference: UTC-5 (during Standard Time)
daylight saving time: +1hr, begins second Sunday in March; ends first Sunday in November
note: the 50 United States cover six time zones
Administrative divisions: 50 states and 1 district*; Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia*, 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
Dependent areas: American Samoa, Baker Island, Guam, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, Midway Islands, Navassa Island, Northern Mariana Islands, Palmyra Atoll, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Wake Island
note: from 18 July 1947 until 1 October 1994, the US administered the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands; it entered into a political relationship with all four political units: the Northern Mariana Islands is a commonwealth in political union with the US (effective 3 November 1986); the Republic of the Marshall Islands signed a Compact of Free Association with the US (effective 21 October 1986); the Federated States of Micronesia signed a Compact of Free Association with the US (effective 3 November 1986); Palau concluded a Compact of Free Association with the US (effective 1 October 1994)
Independence: 4 July 1776 (from Great Britain)
National holiday: Independence Day, 4 July (1776)
Constitution: 17 September 1787, effective 4 March 1789
Legal system: federal court system based on English common law; each state has its own unique legal system, of which all but one (Louisiana, which is still influenced by the Napoleonic Code) is based on English common law; judicial review of legislative acts; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction
Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal
Executive branch: chief of state: President George W. BUSH (since 20 January 2001); Vice President Richard B. CHENEY (since 20 January 2001); note - the president is both the chief of state and head of government
head of government: President George W. BUSH (since 20 January 2001); Vice President Richard B. CHENEY (since 20 January 2001)
cabinet: Cabinet appointed by the president with Senate approval
elections: president and vice president elected on the same ticket by a college of representatives who are elected directly from each state; president and vice president serve four-year terms (eligible for a second term); election last held 4 November 2008 (next to be held on 6 November 2012)
election results: Barack H. OBAMA elected president; percent of popular vote - Barack H. OBAMA 52.4%, John MCCAIN 46.3%, other 1.3%; note - OBAMA is expected to assume office on 20 January 2008
Legislative branch: bicameral Congress consists of the Senate (100 seats, 2 members are elected from each state by popular vote to serve six-year terms; one-third are elected every two years) and the House of Representatives (435 seats; members are directly elected by popular vote to serve two-year terms)
elections: Senate - last held 7 November 2006 (next to be held November 2008); House of Representatives - last held 7 November 2006 (next to be held November 2008)
election results: Senate - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - Democratic Party 49, Republican Party 49, independent 2; House of Representatives - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - Democratic Party 233, Republican Party 202
Judicial branch: Supreme Court (nine justices; nominated by the president and confirmed with the advice and consent of the Senate; appointed to serve for life); United States Courts of Appeal; United States District Courts; State and County Courts
Political parties and leaders: Democratic Party [Howard DEAN]; Green Party; Libertarian Party [William (Bill) REDPATH]; Republican Party [Robert M. (Mike) DUNCAN]
Political pressure groups and leaders: environmentalists; business groups; labor unions; churches; ethnic groups; political action committees or PAC; health groups; education groups; cuvuc griyos; youth groups; transportation groups; agricultural groups; veterans groups; women's groups; reform lobbies
International organization participation: ADB (nonregional members), AfDB (nonregional members), ANZUS, APEC, Arctic Council, ARF, ASEAN (dialogue partner), Australia Group, BIS, BSEC (observer), CBSS (observer), CE (observer), CERN (observer), CP, EAPC, EBRD, FAO, G-5, G-7, G-8, G-10, IADB, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICCt (signatory), ICRM, IDA, IEA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, IMSO, Interpol, IOC, IOM, ISO, ITSO, ITU, ITUC, MIGA, MINUSTAH, NAFTA, NATO, NEA, NSG, OAS, OECD, OPCW, OSCE, Paris Club, PCA, PIF (partner), SAARC (observer), SECI (observer), SPC, UN, UN Security Council, UNAMID, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNITAR, UNMEE, UNMIL, UNOMIG, UNRWA, UNTSO, UPU, WCL, WCO, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO, ZC
Flag description: 13 equal horizontal stripes of red (top and bottom) alternating with white; there is a blue rectangle in the upper hoist-side corner bearing 50 small, white, five-pointed stars arranged in nine offset horizontal rows of six stars (top and bottom) alternating with rows of five stars; the 50 stars represent the 50 states, the 13 stripes represent the 13 original colonies; known as Old Glory; the design and colors have been the basis for a number of other flags, including Chile, Liberia, Malaysia, and Puerto Rico
Culture

The United States is a multicultural nation, home to a wide variety of ethnic groups, traditions, and values. There is no "American" ethnicity; aside from the now small Native American and Native Hawaiian populations, nearly all Americans or their ancestors immigrated within the past five centuries. The culture held in common by most Americans is referred to as mainstream American culture, a Western culture largely derived from the traditions of Western European migrants, beginning with the early English and Dutch settlers. German, Irish, and Scottish cultures have also been very influential. Certain cultural attributes of Mandé and Wolof slaves from West Africa were adopted by the American mainstream; based more on the traditions of Central African Bantu slaves, a distinct African American culture developed that would also deeply affect the mainstream. Westward expansion integrated the Creoles and Cajuns of Louisiana and the Hispanos of the Southwest and brought close contact with the culture of Mexico. Large-scale immigration in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries from Southern and Eastern Europe introduced many new cultural elements. More recent immigration from Asia and especially Latin America has had broad impact. The resulting cultural mix may be described as a homogeneous melting pot, or as a pluralistic salad bowl in which immigrants and their descendants retain distinctive cultural characteristics.

While the mainstream culture holds that the U.S. is a classless society, scholars identify significant differences between the country's social classes, affecting socialization, language, and values. The American middle and professional class has initiated many contemporary social trends such as modern feminism, environmentalism, and multiculturalism. Americans' self-images, social viewpoints, and cultural expectations are associated with their occupations to an unusually close degree. While Americans tend greatly to value socioeconomic achievement, being ordinary or average is generally seen as a positive attribute. Though the American Dream, or the perception that Americans enjoy high social mobility, plays a key role in attracting immigrants, some analysts find that the U.S. has less social mobility than Western Europe and Canada.

Women now mostly work outside the home and receive a majority of bachelor's degrees. In 2005, 28% of households were married childless couples, the most common arrangement. The extension of marital rights to homosexuals is contentious—several states permit civil unions in lieu of marriage. Between 2003 and 2008, the supreme courts of Massachusetts, California, and Connecticut ruled those states' bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. The California ruling was superseded by a state constitutional amendment, approved by voters in November 2008, that defines marriage as between a man and woman. Between 2004 and 2008, voters in 13 other states approved similar constitutional bans on same-sex marriage.

Economy Economy - overview: The US has the largest and most technologically powerful economy in the world, with a per capita GDP of $46,000. In this market-oriented economy, private individuals and business firms make most of the decisions, and the federal and state governments buy needed goods and services predominantly in the private marketplace. US business firms enjoy greater flexibility than their counterparts in Western Europe and Japan in decisions to expand capital plant, to lay off surplus workers, and to develop new products. At the same time, they face higher barriers to enter their rivals' home markets than foreign firms face entering US markets. US firms are at or near the forefront in technological advances, especially in computers and in medical, aerospace, and military equipment; their advantage has narrowed since the end of World War II. The onrush of technology largely explains the gradual development of a "two-tier labor market" in which those at the bottom lack the education and the professional/technical skills of those at the top and, more and more, fail to get comparable pay raises, health insurance coverage, and other benefits. Since 1975, practically all the gains in household income have gone to the top 20% of households. The response to the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 showed the remarkable resilience of the economy. The war in March-April 2003 between a US-led coalition and Iraq, and the subsequent occupation of Iraq, required major shifts in national resources to the military. The rise in GDP in 2004-07 was undergirded by substantial gains in labor productivity. Hurricane Katrina caused extensive damage in the Gulf Coast region in August 2005, but had a small impact on overall GDP growth for the year. Soaring oil prices in 2005-2007 threatened inflation and unemployment, yet the economy continued to grow through year-end 2007. Imported oil accounts for about two-thirds of US consumption. Long-term problems include inadequate investment in economic infrastructure, rapidly rising medical and pension costs of an aging population, sizable trade and budget deficits, and stagnation of family income in the lower economic groups. The merchandise trade deficit reached a record $847 billion in 2007. Together, these problems caused a marked reduction in the value and status of the dollar worldwide in 2007.
GDP (purchasing power parity): $13.78 trillion (2007 est.)
GDP (official exchange rate): $13.84 trillion (2007 est.)
GDP - real growth rate: 2% (2007 est.)
GDP - per capita (PPP): $45,800 (2007 est.)
GDP - composition by sector: agriculture: 1.2%
industry: 19.8%
services: 79% (2007 est.)
Labor force: 153.1 million (includes unemployed) (2007 est.)
Labor force - by occupation: farming, forestry, and fishing 0.6%, manufacturing, extraction, transportation, and crafts 22.6%, managerial, professional, and technical 35.5%, sales and office 24.8%, other services 16.5%
note: figures exclude the unemployed (2007)
Unemployment rate: 4.6% (2007 est.)
Population below poverty line: 12% (2004 est.)
Household income or consumption by percentage share: lowest 10%: 2%
highest 10%: 30% (2007 est.)
Distribution of family income - Gini index: 45 (2007)
Investment (gross fixed): 15.5% of GDP (2007 est.)
Budget: revenues: $2.568 trillion
expenditures: $2.73 trillion (2007 est.)
Fiscal year: 1 October - 30 September
Public debt: 60.8% of GDP (2007 est.)
Inflation rate (consumer prices): 2.9% (2007 est.)
Central bank discount rate: 4.83% (31 December 2007)
Commercial bank prime lending rate: 8.05% (31 December 2007)
Stock of money: $1.374 trillion (31 December 2007)
Stock of quasi money: $10.1 trillion (31 December 2007)
Stock of domestic credit: $14.15 trillion (31 December 2007)
Agriculture - products: wheat, corn, other grains, fruits, vegetables, cotton; beef, pork, poultry, dairy products; fish; forest products
Industries: leading industrial power in the world, highly diversified and technologically advanced; petroleum, steel, motor vehicles, aerospace, telecommunications, chemicals, electronics, food processing, consumer goods, lumber, mining
Industrial production growth rate: -1.7% (2007 est.)
Electricity - production: 4.062 trillion kWh (2005)
Electricity - consumption: 3.816 trillion kWh (2005)
Electricity - exports: 19.8 billion kWh (2005)
Electricity - imports: 44.53 billion kWh (2005)
Electricity - production by source: fossil fuel: 71.4%
hydro: 5.6%
nuclear: 20.7%
other: 2.3% (2001)
Oil - production: 7.46 million bbl/day (2007 est.)
Oil - consumption: 20.8 million bbl/day (2005 est.)
Oil - exports: 1.048 million bbl/day (2004)
Oil - imports: 13.15 million bbl/day (2004)
Oil - proved reserves: 21.76 billion bbl (1 January 2006 est.)
Natural gas - production: 490.8 billion cu m (2005 est.)
Natural gas - consumption: 604 billion cu m (2005 est.)
Natural gas - exports: 19.8 billion cu m (2005 est.)
Natural gas - imports: 117.9 billion cu m (2005)
Natural gas - proved reserves: 5.551 trillion cu m (1 January 2006 est.)
Current account balance: -$731.2 billion (2007 est.)
Exports: $1.148 trillion f.o.b. (2007 est.)
Exports - commodities: agricultural products (soybeans, fruit, corn) 9.2%, industrial supplies (organic chemicals) 26.8%, capital goods (transistors, aircraft, motor vehicle parts, computers, telecommunications equipment) 49.0%, consumer goods (automobiles, medicines) 15.0% (2003)
Exports - partners: Canada 21.4%, Mexico 11.7%, China 5.6%, Japan 5.4%, UK 4.3%, Germany 4.3% (2007)
Imports: $1.968 trillion f.o.b. (2007 est.)
Imports - commodities: agricultural products 4.9%, industrial supplies 32.9% (crude oil 8.2%), capital goods 30.4% (computers, telecommunications equipment, motor vehicle parts, office machines, electric power machinery), consumer goods 31.8% (automobiles, clothing, medicines, furniture, toys) (2003)
Imports - partners: China 16.9%, Canada 15.7%, Mexico 10.6%, Japan 7.4%, Germany 4.8% (2007)
Economic aid - donor: ODA, $23.53 billion (2006)
Reserves of foreign exchange and gold: $70.57 billion (31 December 2007 est.)
Debt - external: $12.25 trillion (30 June 2007)
Stock of direct foreign investment - at home: $2.093 trillion (2007 est.)
Stock of direct foreign investment - abroad: $2.791 trillion (2007 est.)
Market value of publicly traded shares: $17 trillion (2005)
Currency (code): US dollar (USD)
Currency code: USD
Exchange rates: British pounds per US dollar: 0.4993 (2007), 0.5418 (2006), 0.5493 (2005), 0.5462 (2004), 0.6125 (2003)
Canadian dollars per US dollar: 1.0724 (2007), 1.1334 (2006), 1.2118 (2005), 1.3010 (2004), 1.4011 (2003)
Japanese yen per US dollar: 117.99 (2007), 116.18 (2006) 110.22 (2005), 108.19 (2004), 115.93 (2003)
euros per US dollar: 0.7345 (2007), 0.7964 (2006), 0.8041 (2005), 0.8054 (2004), 0.8860 (2003)
Chinese yuan per US dollar: 7.61 (2007), 7.97 (2006), 8.1943 (2005), 8.2768 (2004), 8.2770 (2003)
Communications Telephones - main lines in use: 163.2 million (2007)
Telephones - mobile cellular: 255 million (2007)
Telephone system: general assessment: a large, technologically advanced, multipurpose communications system
domestic: a large system of fiber-optic cable, microwave radio relay, coaxial cable, and domestic satellites carries every form of telephone traffic; a rapidly growing cellular system carries mobile telephone traffic throughout the country
international: country code - 1; multiple ocean cable systems provide international connectivity; satellite earth stations - 61 Intelsat (45 Atlantic Ocean and 16 Pacific Ocean), 5 Intersputnik (Atlantic Ocean region), and 4 Inmarsat (Pacific and Atlantic Ocean regions) (2000)
Radio broadcast stations: AM 4,789, FM 8,961, shortwave 19 (2006)
Radios: 575 million (1997)
Television broadcast stations: 2,218 (2006)
Televisions: 219 million (1997)
Internet country code: .us
Internet hosts: 316 million (2008); note - the US Internet total host count includes the following top level domain host addresses: .us, .com, .edu, .gov, .mil, .net, and .org
Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 7,000 (2002 est.)
Internet users: 223 million (2008)
Transportation Airports: 14,947 (2007)
Airports - with paved runways: total: 5,143
over 3,047 m: 191
2,438 to 3,047 m: 224
1,524 to 2,437 m: 1,452
914 to 1,523 m: 2,323
under 914 m: 953 (2007)
Airports - with unpaved runways: total: 9,804
2,438 to 3,047 m: 7
1,524 to 2,437 m: 153
914 to 1,523 m: 1,732
under 914 m: 7,912 (2007)
Heliports: 146 (2007)
Pipelines: petroleum products 244,620 km; natural gas 548,665 km (2006)
Railways: total: 226,612 km
standard gauge: 226,612 km 1.435-m gauge (2005)
Roadways: total: 6,465,799 km
paved: 4,209,835 km (includes 75,040 km of expressways)
unpaved: 2,255,964 km (2007)
Waterways: 41,009 km (19,312 km used for commerce)
note: Saint Lawrence Seaway of 3,769 km, including the Saint Lawrence River of 3,058 km, shared with Canada (2007)
Merchant marine: total: 422
by type: barge carrier 6, bulk carrier 61, cargo 69, carrier 2, chemical tanker 22, container 81, passenger 19, passenger/cargo 59, petroleum tanker 53, refrigerated cargo 3, roll on/roll off 25, vehicle carrier 22
foreign-owned: 74 (Australia 1, Denmark 31, Germany 5, Japan 7, Malaysia 2, Netherlands 1, Norway 9, Singapore 12, Sweden 5, UK 1)
registered in other countries: 732 (Antigua and Barbuda 8, Australia 2, Bahamas 106, Bermuda 23, Cambodia 6, Canada 10, Cayman Islands 42, Comoros 2, Cyprus 5, Ecuador 1, Greece 8, Hong Kong 29, Ireland 2, Isle of Man 4, Italy 17, South Korea 7, Liberia 98, Luxembourg 4, Malta 23, Marshall Islands 123, Netherlands 14, Netherlands Antilles 1, Norway 1, Norway 7, Panama 126, Portugal 1, Puerto Rico 3, Russia 1, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 18, Sierra Leone 1, Singapore 22, Trinidad and Tobago 1, Tuvalu 1, UK 12, Vanuatu 1, unknown 2) (2008)
Ports and terminals: Corpus Christi, Duluth, Hampton Roads, Houston, Long Beach, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Tampa, Texas City
Military Military branches: US Army, US Navy (includes Marine Corps), US Air Force, US Coast Guard; note - Coast Guard administered in peacetime by the Department of Homeland Security, but in wartime reports to the Department of the Navy (2008)
Military service age and obligation: 18 years of age (17 years of age with parental consent) for male and female voluntary service; maximum enlistment age 42 (Army), 27 (Air Force), 34 (Navy), 28 (Marines); service obligation 8 years, including 2-5 years active duty (Army), 2 years active (Navy), 4 years active (Air Force, Marines) (2008)
Manpower available for military service: males age 16-49: 72,715,332
females age 16-49: 71,638,785 (2008 est.)
Manpower fit for military service: males age 16-49: 59,413,358
females age 16-49: 59,187,183 (2008 est.)
Manpower reaching militarily significant age annually: male: 2,186,440
female: 2,079,688 (2008 est.)
Military expenditures: 4.06% of GDP (2005 est.)
Transnational Issues Disputes - international: the U.S. has intensified domestic security measures and is collaborating closely with its neighbors, Canada and Mexico, to monitor and control legal and illegal personnel, transport, and commodities across the international borders; abundant rainfall in recent years along much of the Mexico-US border region has ameliorated periodically strained water-sharing arrangements; 1990 Maritime Boundary Agreement in the Bering Sea still awaits Russian Duma ratification; managed maritime boundary disputes with Canada at Dixon Entrance, Beaufort Sea, Strait of Juan de Fuca, and around the disputed Machias Seal Island and North Rock; The Bahamas and US have not been able to agree on a maritime boundary; US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay is leased from Cuba and only mutual agreement or US abandonment of the area can terminate the lease; Haiti claims US-administered Navassa Island; US has made no territorial claim in Antarctica (but has reserved the right to do so) and does not recognize the claims of any other states; Marshall Islands claims Wake Island; Tokelau included American Samoa's Swains Island among the islands listed in its 2006 draft constitution
Refugees and internally displaced persons: refugees (country of origin): the US admitted 62,643 refugees during FY04/05 including; 10,586 (Somalia); 8,549 (Laos); 6,666 (Russia); 6,479 (Cuba); 3,100 (Haiti); 2,136 (Iran) (2006)
Illicit drugs: world's largest consumer of cocaine (shipped from Colombia through Mexico and the Caribbean), Colombian heroin, and Mexican heroin and marijuana; major consumer of ecstasy and Mexican methamphetamine; minor consumer of high-quality Southeast Asian heroin; illicit producer of cannabis, marijuana, depressants, stimulants, hallucinogens, and methamphetamine; money-laundering center
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