The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country primarily located in North America. It consists of 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles (9.8 million km2), it is the world’s third- or fourth-largest country by total area. With a population of over 331 million people, it is the third most populous country in the world. The national capital is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city is New York City.
Paleo-Indians migrated from Siberia to the North American mainland at least 12,000 years ago. European colonization began in the 16th century. The United States emerged from the thirteen British colonies established along the East Coast. Numerous disputes with Great Britain over taxation and political representation led to the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), which established independence. In the late 18th century, the U.S. began expanding across North America, gradually obtaining new territories, displacing Native Americans, and admitting new states. Settlement accelerated rapidly in the 19th century with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and the Oregon Treaty in 1846. The outcome of the Civil War ensured the nation’s survival as a united republic. The victorious Union consolidated its position as the dominant industrial power in the world. Immigration from Europe and Asia increased dramatically in the 19th and 20th centuries. The United States emerged from World War II as a global superpower fending off the imperialist Soviet Union in the Cold War. During the post–Cold War era, the United States remains an influential nation in elections, economics, environmental policy, and world events.
The United States is a federal republic and a representative democracy with three separate branches of government: the executive, legislative, and judicial. The powers of the federal government were established by the Constitution. The chief executive is the president, who (along with the vice president) is elected indirectly by the people via an electoral college system for a 4-year term. The bicameral federal legislature consists of the Senate and the House of Representatives. They make federal law, declare war, approve treaties, and have broad oversight and budgetary powers. The judicial branch interprets the Constitution and federal law. The federal government shares national sovereignty with the state governments, which are structured in a similar manner. The federal government has foreign relations with most nations and has the world’s largest economy and military spending. It is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. America’s growing economic, cultural, military, scientific, and political influence gave rise to the American Century in the 20th century.
Indigenous peoples and pre-Columbian history
It is believed that the earliest inhabitants of North America migrated from Siberia by crossing the Bering Strait and through the Isthmus of Panama. Some, such as the pre-Columbian Mississippian culture, developed advanced agriculture, grand architecture, and state-level societies. After the Spanish colonized the Americas, the native population was largely decimated by disease, warfare, and slavery. In 1492, Christopher Columbus, sponsored by the Spanish Crown, reached the Caribbean islands and made landfall in the Bahamas. He named the lands he encountered indias españolas or Spanish Indies. This began the Age of Exploration and Colonialism. Juan Ponce de León colonized Puerto Rico while Hernando de Soto claimed Florida.
In 1607, English colonists established Jamestown as the first permanent English settlement in the Americas. The Mayflower transported Pilgrims to Plymouth Colony in 1620. As English settlers expanded their territory, Native Americans responded with warfare. As more colonists arrived, they seized Native American lands. This led to King Philip’s War in 1675, one of several catastrophic conflicts between colonists and indigenous peoples. Mounting conflict led to the American Revolution against British rule.
Colonization and revolution (1607–1775)
After declaring independence from Great Britain in 1776, the United States secured land east of the Mississippi River following the Revolutionary War and American Indian Wars. The 1783 Treaty of Paris established U.S. borders from the Atlantic coast west to the Mississippi River. This doubled the nation’s size, expanding it into rich farmlands and doubling foreign trade.
Expansion into the Gulf Coast and the purchase of Alaska and annexation of Hawaii expanded the nation across North America. Battles over the legality and morality of slavery impeded early expansion into new territories. The United States abolished the international slave trade in 1807. After the Civil War, reforms began allowing rights to African Americans starting with the Reconstruction Era. Congress passed civil rights legislation during segregation challenged by activist movements.
Early modern period (1865–1945)
Economic and technological development led to the Gilded Age from the 1870s to about 1900. The Antebellum era was followed by the Reconstruction era; the nadir of American race relations was marked by the formation of the Ku Klux Klan in 1865. The South after the Civil War remained economically devastated; its economy became increasingly dependent on the production of cotton through sharecropping and tenant farming.
The frontier settled by yeoman farmers was transformed into an agricultural empire; in 1898, six years after the end of the American Indian Wars, the US Army administered the remaining western territories. Natural resources were exploited intensively. The US begun establishing overseas dominions and colonies, starting with the annexation of Midway Atoll in 1867, and reaching its peak with the acquisition of the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico in 1898 after the Spanish–American War.
Imperialism launched the United States on the world stage. After victory in that war and the purchase of Alaska, Hawaii, and the occupation of Cuba and Philippines, the US initiated the Open Door policy to spread capitalized “corporate America” across the globe. Overseas interventions also increased following the Monroe Doctrine and Roosevelt Corollary; the United States gained control of Panama and built the Panama Canal.
The Progressive Era from the 1890s to 1920s saw reforms, increased suffrage and shifts in government policy. The foreign policy initiative “Missionary Diplomacy” gave way to Dollar Diplomacy under President William Howard Taft. The 17th Amendment required direct election of Senators, while the 19th Amendment extended equal suffrage to women. President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points brought Germany to armistice and the League of Nations was proposed during World War I. However, the Senate did not ratify this treaty, and the United States never joined the League.
In 1920, the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote. The New Deal was President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s response to the Great Depression, a severe worldwide economic recession. Herbert Hoover is remembered poorly for refusing to allow the federal government to directly provide relief. Interstate highways were laid across the country. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation was passed to protect bank deposits.
From 1940 to 1941, Japan conducted surprise attacks on American military bases in Hawaii (Pearl Harbor) and the Philippines (which initiated the occupation). This caused the US to declare war on the Empire of Japan. The US joined the Allies and helped to defeat Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy in Europe.
Cold War era and late 20th century (1945–1991)
After World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union became superpowers involved in the Cold War. The US developed the first nuclear weapons fearing the Soviet Union would acquire them. The USSR detonated their first nuclear bomb in 1949, sparking the nuclear arms race. Americans perceived the Soviet Union to be the greatest threat to their liberty and democracy.
In the 1960s, the nation faced domestic unrest from the civil rights movement and anti-war protesters. Support for segregation ended in the South, yet racism, sexism and the threat of nuclear war continued. The Vietnam War featured heavy US involvement in South East Asia. The launch of Sputnik in 1957 commenced the Space Race. The United States landed astronauts on the moon in 1969.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the US started moving towards a neoliberal economic model. Middle East diplomacy was important for national security during the 1973 oil crisis and eventually led to the 1979 Egypt–Israel Peace Treaty. Deregulation and tax cuts by President Ronald Reagan, a Republican, and the Federal Reserve chair Paul Volcker stimulated economic growth beginning a record period of prosperity and growth of income. The US emerged as the world’s lone superpower after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Contemporary history (1991–present)
In 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed, ending the Cold War. Unipolarity and the “end of history”, characterized by U.S. domination and the lack of major wars, defined the new world order. The 9/11 attacks killed almost 3,000 people and triggered the War on Terror. In 2001, al-Qaeda terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in New York City and The Pentagon near Washington, D.C. In response, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, quashing al-Qaeda and toppling the Taliban government. In 2003, the U.S. invaded Iraq. Multiple terrorist attacks and counterterror operations continue.
Long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan followed. Foreign policy focused on fighting the War on Terror. Trade pacts were initiated with Central American countries; Canada and Mexico with the North American Free Trade Agreement; Muslim-majority countries like Jordan and Bahrain; Israel; and other countries. In 2008 and 2010, Americans elected President Barack Obama, the country’s first African-American president.
After the Great Recession, the Affordable Care Act was signed into law by Obama. Today, the US remains a major economic, cultural, military and political force around the world. The country struggles with growing income inequality; mass shootings; the threat of domestic terrorism; and loss of manufacturing jobs to developing countries.
Government and politics
The United States is the world’s oldest surviving federation. It is a constitutional republic and representative democracy. The federal government derives its legitimacy from the consent of the governed, expressed through elections. Power is distributed among the federal government, state governments, and municipal governments. Americans have a vibrant civil society and strong protections for civil liberties. The president is both head of state and head of government. Congress has two legislative bodies. The Supreme Court decides constitutional matters.
The federal government is composed of three branches:
Legislative: The bicameral Congress comprises the Senate and the House of Representatives. Senators serve six-year terms representing individual states and House members serve two-year terms representing congressional districts. Bills must pass both houses and be signed into law by the president.
Executive: The president is the commander-in-chief of the military, can veto legislative bills, and appoints Cabinet members and Supreme Court justices. The Cabinet and other agencies advise and administrate.
Judiciary: The Supreme Court and lower courts interpret laws and overturn those found unconstitutional. The Supreme Court justices are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
Parties, ideologies and politics
American politics are dominated by the highly competitive, two-party system. The two major parties are the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. There are also minor parties, usually called third parties. The Democrats controlled politics until the 1860s, followed by the Republicans until 1933, followed by the Democrats. Since the 1960s, Republicans have generally controlled the South, Northeast and Midwest regions while Democrats control the West Coast and large Northern cities. Competitive elections now attract millions of voters who support diverse views. The Economist Intelligence Unit has rated the United States as a “full democracy” in 2016.
Courts have ordered states to comply with the Equal Protection Clause, for instance, by ordering state legislatures to redistrict electoral districts to enable minorities to elect candidates of their choice in areas where voting patterns have been racially polarized.
Campaign finance in the United States is controversial: critics claim politicians are beholden to major donors and business interests because of campaign finance laws such as Citizens United v. FEC.
The United States is a federal republic of 50 states, the District of Columbia, and one self-governing commonwealth. The federal and state governments share power, and the people express their will through elections and civic participation. There is considerable agreement on core values such as private property, civil liberties, and a democratic political system. Americans generally trust their democracy, which stands out in the developed world.
There is a culture war between religious, secular, and mixed segments of society. The polarized climate results in elaboration of deeper conflict over emotionally charged social issues, especially regarding race. Division over the role and size of government has grown because of the rise of a diverse multiethnic society. Recent social trends include rising income inequality, the mass media’s focus on wedge issues among multiple demographics, and perennial cultural debates around subjects like religion, race relations, immigration, multiculturalism, LGBT issues, ideology, urbanization, abortion, and gun rights.
Partisanship has increased drastically. As of 2022, 33% identified as Democrats, 28% as Republicans, and 38% as independents. From the mid-1970s to 2004, partisan identification closely correlated with economic status, with the wealthy tending to favor Republicans and the poor favoring Democrats. From 2000 to 2016, party ID and income became less correlated. Since the 1990s, the large population of the Great Lakes “Rust Belt” industrial states have shifted toward the Republican Party. Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and other Southern and Great Plains states have voted Republican in most presidential elections since the 1960s or 1970s.
Historically, Democrats relied on labor unions for political support since the 1930s. Since the 1960s, Democrats have relied on professoinals, women, African Americans, Jews, Latinos, and Native Americans. Republicans rapidly mobilized evangelical Christians as their base. Most Hispanics and Asians tend to support Democrats. Despite favoring Democrats, Hispanics live in diverse areas and have diverse social identities which weakens their political power. In 2018, Democrats won control of the House of Representatives by mobilizing opposition to President Donald Trump, especially from minorities.
State and local governments
State governments have the greatest influence over Americans’ daily lives. Each state is sovereign over its territory and citizens. There are sometimes major differences between U.S. states. Most state governments pattern themselves after the federal system.
The Tenth Amendment prohibits the federal government from exercising power not delegated to it by the states under the Constitution. As a result, states handle the majority of issues most relevant to individuals. State laws vary across the U.S. in many areas, such as property, business, public health, sexuality, consent, age of majority, and zoning. Because state constitutions differ, state courts are definitive interpreters of constitutional law. In contrast, federal courts may review only matters of federal law and constitutional infringement. The relationship between state governments and the federal government depends on the issue and historical factors.
Most states have a bicameral legislature, often called a state congress. The unicameral Nebraska Legislature is unique. The chief executive of each state is the governor, who is elected independently in 43 states. In the other seven states, the governor is elected jointly with a lieutenant governor. Officeholders generally serve two or four-year terms, depending on the state.
The largest municipality in the United States by population is the consolidated city-county of New York City, followed by Los Angeles and Chicago. State capitals serve as the host cities of state government activities. There are 89,500 local governments, including 3,033 counties, 19,519 municipalities, and 16,500 townships. Local governments directly serve the needs of 238 million people and communities across the country. County governments are usually in charge of law enforcement and public safety.
The United States controls several territories, populated groups of distant islands and a segment of Antarctica.
Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands are self-governing territories represented in the federal legislature. Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa are administered by the federal government. American Samoa is officially unincorporated and unorganized. U.S. sovereignty in international law, treaty obligations and law forbids these territories from unilaterally declaring independence.
Under the Insular Cases, “unincorporated territories” provide for degrees of autonomy through organic acts decided by the U.S. Congress guided by United Nations trustee responsibilities. Incorporated territories under Article IV of the Constitution apply the full U.S. constitution. The U.S. federal government administers several additional regions. Washington, D.C. has been the federal capital city since 1801. The U.S. acquired Puerto Rico in 1898, the Philippines in 1898–1946, the U.S. Virgin Islands in 1917, Guam in 1898, Wake Island in 1899, American Samoa in 1899, the Northern Mariana Islands in 1986, and other island groups and atolls.
The United States has a global influence in economic, political, science, military, and cultural spheres. It is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and New York City hosts the UN Headquarters. Almost all countries have embassies in Washington, D.C., and many have consulates around the country. The United States government and its policies are the primary topic of global opinion polls.
The U.S. leads the developed world in foreign aid, donating over $49 billion in 2019. However, the country has had strained relations with the United Nations. In 2017, the U.S. contributed 28.47% of the UN budget, more than the next two largest contributors China and Japan combined. The U.S. contributes more troops deployed abroad than any other country. The country is a member of NATO, SEATO, ANZUS and other alliances. It works with regional organizations in Asia, Africa, and the Americas through USAID and humanitarian operations. The U.S. maintains strong ties with Israel, the EU, and the nations involved in the Arab–Israeli conflict.
Despite cooperation, some countries have an anti-American public sentiment. According to global opinion polls, only 45% of respondents held a positive view of the U.S., while 35% had a negative view. Favourable views have declined since 2003 due to a perception of declining American morality and efficacy. The U.S. has dealt with many issues related to moral decline, substance abuse, violence and poor worker productivity. Crime has decreased since the 1990s, but the U.S. retains high levels of homicides and firearms-related deaths compared to other developed nations. The U.S. performs poorly in quality of life rankings, but excels in higher education, press freedom and income.
Taxes are levied by federal, state, and local governments on income, property, imports, payroll, productions, transactions, estates and gifts. Tax policies are determined by officials that are appointed, elected, or approved by elected officials. Multiple local governments also impose income taxes. To finance government operations, the treasury borrows externally and domestically. State and municipal governments also borrow. External debt owed to foreigners is about $6 trillion.
The U.S. Census Bureau conducts a constitutionally mandated decennial census whose data determines congressional apportionment to states. The American population grew rapidly during the 19th century and into the 20th century, reflected by a shift from rural areas to large industrial metropolises, immigration from overseas, and high birth rates. The 2010 Census recorded 308.7 million persons, a 9.7% rise from 2000. This represented the third-largest population increase among all countries globally. The U.S. fertility rate has generally stood below replacement level since the 1970s.
The United States is home to people of many ancestries, cultures, races, and religions. In 2019, the largest ancestry groups were German (13.4%), Irish (11.8%), English (8.5%), American (5.7%), Italian (5.2%), Mexican (8.8%), and African American (13.4%). As of 2019, white Americans comprised 60.4% of the population, Hispanic and Latino Americans 18.3%, Black Americans 13.4%, Asian Americans 5.9%, Native Americans 1.3% and Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders 0.2%. The Hispanic and Latino immigrant population rose from 3.6% of the total in 1970 to 17.8% in 2019. The 2010 census recorded over 39 million foreign-born residents—one in eight people.
The U.S. has one of the world’s highest rates of income inequality and poverty among developed countries. In 2018, the official poverty rate was 11.8%. There were approximately 38 million people living in poverty, including 6.2 million children. 39.7 million residents, including 12.9 million children, did not have health insurance in 2017. In 2021, life expectancy in the U.S. was 78.8 years, decreasing by 1.4 years during 2020—the largest single-year decline in over 75 years. Most deaths were from COVID-19, drug overdoses, accidents, and chronic conditions.
Largest ancestry groups in the United States (2019, surveyed adults)
The First Amendment guarantees both the free practice of religion and the non-establishment of religion at the federal level. In a 2013 survey, 56% of Americans identified as Christian: 25% as Catholic, 14% as Protestant, 23% as unaffiliated, 15% as none (atheist or agnostic), and 6% as followers of non-Christian faiths. According to a 2020 survey, 65% of American adults identified themselves as Christian, down from 85% in 1990. Meanwhile, the religiously unaffiliated or “no religion” rose from 8% to 26% of respondents. The majority of the decline came from the Protestant Churches (14% to 11%).
Protestantism is the largest Christian religious grouping in the U.S., and has played a fundamental role in shaping American culture. It was brought by English, German-speaking, and Nordic settlers. Nine of the original Thirteen Colonies were established by British settlers. The Puritans fled England and established the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1629. In 1682, William Penn established the colony of Pennsylvania for Quakers. Many other Protestants colonized the New World for religious freedom. These Protestant groups include Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Anglicans and Congregationalists. After their arrival, African slaves were converted and taught Christianity. Missionary efforts converted some Native American populations to Christianity, but these efforts eventually failed.
Beginning in the 17th century, Puritan settlers saw themselves as fulfilling a divine mission to found the holy City upon a Hill of the New World. From the start, Protestant sects established colleges so their clergy could teach arts and theology to train ministers. These institutions profoundly shaped the national culture and identity, as did evangelical Protestant religion. The Great Awakenings were religious revivals supporting Evangelicalism. They rejected established liturgy, and promoted personal religious experiences.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has played an increasingly prominent role. At over 16 million members, it is among the fastest-growing churches in the United States. Aside from Protestantism, other prominent American Christian groups include Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental Orthodoxy; non-trinitarian Restorationism originated in the U.S. and includes Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
About 6% of Americans identify with non-Christian religions including Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. Over one-third of Americans identify as atheists, agnostics, or nothing in particular. Surveys demonstrate widespread belief in concepts like life after death, sin, and heaven among both religious and non-religious Americans.
The United States has a capitalist market economy. GDP growth, at an annualized rate, was 2.3% in 2019 down from 2.9% in 2018 and 2.4% in 2017. 18.3% of people lived below the poverty line at the end of 2018. Since 1975, the United States has been the world’s largest national economy measured nominally and in purchasing power parity (PPP).
In 2019, the U.S. share in the global economy was 24% according to IMF data. By GDP, the U.S. has the world’s largest national economy, ahead of China, India, Japan, Germany, and the UK. In terms of average wealth per adult, the United States ranked 7th globally in 2020. The U.S. dollar is the currency mostly used in international transactions. Several countries use it as their official currency.
The U.S. private sector constitutes 85% of the economy. Personal income per capita is among the highest in the world. It leads in total output, profit, competitive edge in research and development (R&D), and exerts a strong impact on the world economy. The nation’s economy is fueled by an abundance in natural resources, high productivity, a well-developed infrastructure, and high consumer spending. However, the country faces high household debt, income inequality, and persistent trade deficits.
U.S. corporations dominate lists of the world’s largest companies by revenue, market capitalization, and profit. The New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ are the world’s largest stock exchanges. Most of the world’s largest companies have their headquarters in the U.S. Among the world’s 500 largest companies, 132 have headquarters in America. According to Forbes in 2021, the top five U.S. companies by revenue were Walmart, Amazon, ExxonMobil, Apple Inc., and CVS Health; and the top five by market capitalization were Apple Inc., Microsoft, Amazon, Alphabet Inc., and Facebook. In 2018, U.S. companies invested over $342 billion in foreign direct investment. Foreign companies invested over $4.5 trillion in the U.S. economy.
Agriculture. The United States Department of Agriculture oversees policies for agriculture. It provides subsidies to farmers, funds conservation and food assistance programs. Government aid includes crop insurance, commodity support, and conservation programs. U.S. agricultural exports in 2019 were worth $140 billion, led by soybeans, wheat, dairy products, pork and beef. About 13% of farms are commercially viable. Corn, turkeys, chickens, pigs, californium-252, cattle, and milk are major U.S. products. Farmers raise over 95% of U.S. chicken population and represent less than 2% of civilian employment.
Tourism. Tourism contributes about 2.8% to the country’s GDP and employs 2.3% of U.S. workers. The tourism industry includes 1.2 million restaurants and hotels, 1.5 million transportation workers, and 1.8 million leisure and hospitality employees. One of the largest service industries, it generates $1.6 trillion in spending by foreign and domestic tourists. New York City, Las Vegas, Orlando, Miami, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, San Francisco, and Boston are the most popular destinations for international visitors. Hawaii’s beach resorts attract vacationers.
Energy. The U.S. energy market is 29,000 terawatt hours per year and growing. In 2019, 35% of energy consumption was from petroleum, 31% from natural gas, and 14% from coal. The remainder came mostly from renewables. U.S. imports and exports vary year-to-year. In 2019, it exported about 7.42 quads and imported about 7.64 quads of energy. In 2017, the United States was the world’s largest producer and consumer of natural gas and the second-largest of petroleum. It was fourth in petroleum consumption behind China, India and Japan. In 2019, U.S. energy consumption was 100 quadrillion BTU and U.S. energy production was 94 quadrillion BTU.
Manufacturing. Manufacturing contributed $2.33 trillion to the economy in 2019 about 11% of U.S. GDP. Major American manufacturing industries include automotive, aerospace, machinery, chemicals, forest products, consumer goods, electronics, metals, petroleum, foods, construction, and shipbuilding. The U.S. leads manufacturing in computers and electronics products, aircraft and automobiles. It generally holds second place, behind China, in total manufacturing output.
Finance. The U.S. dollar is the currency for over 60% of global reserves and 80% of global payments. Global payments in the United States were over $6 trillion in 2018. As a share of GDP, the financial sector roughly doubled in size from 5% in 1947 to 10% in 2017. About 8,300 U.S. commercial banks have over $13 trillion in assets. The five largest banks by total assets are JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and Goldman Sachs. In 2019, banks posted record profits of over $140 billion. The financial crisis of 2007–2008 triggered the Great Recession, which cost the economy 8.7 million jobs. The government spent billions of dollars to stabilize the financial system. The Dodd-Frank Act increased regulation, but growth and consolidation resulted in even bigger banks.
Other sectors. In 2018, healthcare spending was 18% of GDP, retail sales were 15%, manufacturing 12%, real estate 9%, professional and business services 9%, and construction 6%. The average annual income of the top 1% grew 226% from 1979 to 2021, whereas the bottom 90% grew 26%. There is a widening wealth gap between older and younger people.
The U.S. labor market is characterized by high employment rates relative to other countries. In 2018, 86% of the working-age population was employed. In 2020, 145 million persons worked in America. The government does not guarantee employment. It promotes equal opportunity and prohibits discrimination in the workplace. Unemployment rose from 5 million in 2007 to 15 million in 2009, as the economy entered the Great Recession. It recovered back to its pre-recession level by 2016, and reached below 4% in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic broke out.
After the late 2000s recession, more unemployment has shifted towards service workers and mid-wage occupations. Since the 1990s, income inequality expanded with productivity and lower taxes. Real median household income grew from $44,100 in 1961 to $66,800 in 2019; it declined during recessions in the early 1980s, early 1990s and Great Recession. The average freshman-to-senior ratio salary is around $43,000 to $95,000 among college graduates.
Wealth and income
Wealth inequality is greater than income inequality, particularly among the states. In the top prosperity states, 30% of households had over $100,000 in wealth. 15% had none or negative net worth. Wealthier states like Connecticut have the highest rates. Rates are generally lower in rural states. Poverty rates remain above 10% in states like Louisiana, New Mexico and Mississippi but are lower in Utah, New Hampshire and Alaska. Overall poverty rates have decreased by 12.8% from 1959 to 2019, reaching 11.4%.
The U.S. has the highest mean household income in the OECD, and the economy shows higher collective and per capita GDP. The globalization of the economy, perceived decline of the middle class, rising household debt, two severe recessions, and an increase in military spending have reduced American prosperity domestically. But inequality remains a real social issue.
Congressional Budget Office data show that “after-tax income of households in the top 1 percent of earners has increased 157 percent” compared to “a gain of 49 percent for the bottom 90 percent” from 1979 to 2007. Income has grown more for married families than for non-married families and more for non-Hispanic white households than for minority households. According to CBO, by 2021, the after-tax median income of households in the middle class is project to be below $102,000, almost 3% lower than the peak of about $106,000 in 1999. Wages have stagnated and personal debt has risen over the past few decades.
The rise in inequality is attributed to tax cuts, union busting, and other policy choices favoring the wealthy. Government policy responses since the Great Recession have little effect on the level or distribution of U.S. income. Stock ownership has become concentrated by accelerating income inequality.
In 2019, official poverty rates were 11.4%, based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s thresholds. Poverty is higher among minority groups. 21.2% of African Americans, 18.8% of Hispanics, and 27.0% of Native Americans lived below the poverty line. Poverty affects children disproportionately. In 2019, the child poverty rate was 16.8%.
There were about 38 million very low food secure Americans in 2019, including 11 million children. 46.5% of children lived in a low-income household. As of 2019, 20.1 million people make income barely above poverty lines. The near-poor represents 33% of the population. 84% of all non-elderly uninsured persons live in a household with one or more full-time workers.
The bottom fifth earn on average almost 12 times as the top fifth ($18,963 vs. $237,034). The share of income going to the top 1% decreased to 8% in 2018 from 24% in 1928-1929. Income inequality was highest in Southern states, District of Columbia, New York and Connecticut, lowest in Utah. Among OECD nations, income inequality is comparatively high in the U.S. but analyses tend to show living standards are higher for the average American than in other high inequality countries. Academic judgments of the causes and effects of income inequality vary, but in popular and political discourse, notions of fairness, justice and equal opportunity recur, especially the idea that economic outcomes should reflect contributions.
In 2019, the U.S. imported $2.5 trillion in goods and $592 billion in services, resulting in a goods and services trade deficit of over $617 billion. The nation’s long-standing trade deficit has resulted in sizable external debts. The U.S. was the world’s third or second-largest exporter from the 1880s to the 1920s. Between 1930 and 1980, it lost its lead in exports to other developed nations. In the 1980s and 1990s, manufacturing employment and output collapsed, generating a trade deficit. The trade deficit has been steadily rising; the goods deficit reached a record $831 billion in 2019.
China, Canada, Mexico, Japan, and Germany are the top trade partners of the U.S. China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, and has become one of the world’s largest manufacturers and exporters of goods. The trade deficit with China in manufactured goods topped $1.7 trillion between 2001–2019, more than the U.S. total trade deficit with all countries. In 2019, the U.S. imported $463 billion in goods from China but exported only $188 billion in goods to China. Although trade relations have improved, the trade deficit with China remains problematic.
Energy, air pollution, and the environment
The U.S. accounts for about one-third of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions from transportation. Other emissions come from industry, heating, and air conditioning. Greenhouse gas emissions cause global warming. Efforts to raise fuel economy of automobiles and limit traffic are among ways the nation tries reducing oil consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Since around 2001, U.S. dependence on oil imports decreased from 60% to 34% by 2018. This came from higher domestic oil production, more efficient vehicles and biofuels.
Between 1950 and 2018, the number of vehicles in per capita ownership increased from one vehicle per 3.9 persons to one per 2.28 persons. Most passenger kilometers were done by personal automobile (58%) followed by light trucks (16%), air (8%) and bus (7%). New York City has the nation’s largest mass transit usage, in 2018 reporting 2.5 billion passenger miles. The New York metropolitan area has, by far, the highest rate of public transport ridership in the U.S., in 2006 reporting 753 public transport trips per capita annually on average.
Rail transport carries 32% of U.S. freight, compared to 30% by trucks and 1% by air. Commodity flows inbound accounted for 22% of shipments and 21% of tonnage. Coal accounted for 39% of tonnage, followed by nonmetallic minerals and grain. Coal trains operate over most Class I rail systems. In 2018, Class I railroads recorded 11 million carloads (up 1.5% from 2017) and generated $74.9 billion in revenue. Cargo airlines transport about $93.3 billion worth of goods annually.
U.S. energy consumption and production (in quadrillion Btu)
The United States is the second-largest energy consumer in the world after China and the largest producer of oil and natural gas. In 2016, 35% of energy consumption was from petroleum, 24% from natural gas, 23% from coal, and 8% from nuclear fission. In 2019, 42% came from crude oil and petroleum products, 31% from natural gas, 13% from coal, 5% from renewables, and 6% from nuclear electric power. The U.S. depends on importing minerals and metals. It is one of the world’s largest producers of gold, copper, natural gas, iron, steel, petroleum, mineral fertilizers, cement and aluminum. Despite being a top producer and exporter, the country is a net importer of most of these goods. It imports mainly crude oil, iron ore, motor vehicles and consumer goods.
The United States’ populous coastlines sit by fossil fuel reserves and vast land resources. It has abundant minerals, forests, lakes for hydropower dams, and rivers for navigation. Natural resources were historically exploited, but conservation efforts since the late 19th century curbed overexploitation. Wilderness and habitats are better protected compared to when the frontier was open. However, deforestation outside federal lands still occurs. Regulation caused a decline of U.S. minerals output in the 1990s. In 2015, the nation produced 88% of the world’s secondary rare
American education is provided mainly by government, with control and funding coming from three levels: federal, state, and local. School attendance is mandatory and free for all children between the ages of 6 and 18.
About 80% of K-12 students attend public schools, 10% attend private schools, and the remainder are home-schooled. K-12 public school systems are managed by school districts, while colleges and universities are operated either publicly or privately.
In 2018, some 85% of high school graduates attended college, up from 4% in 1940. As for secondary schooling, the American system differs from other developed countries. There is a choice between vocational and academic paths. Schools are highly decentralized for better individualization of curricula. However, the outcomes vary widely across the country and graduating from high school does not ensure college admission.
Higher education in the U.S. is offered beginning with the associate’s degree. This is followed by the bachelor’s degree, which can be obtained after four years of study at a college or university. The highest degrees of education are master’s, either a Master of Arts, or Master of Science degree, followed by the doctorate degree, which represents another two or more years of study past the master’s degree.
Admission into universities is selective based on high school grades, entrance exam scores, extracurricular activities, and other factors. About two thirds of the top universities are private. Top universities get allocations averaging between $35–$55 billion in endowments and research grants which contribute greatly to their competitiveness. Although tuition costs have risen dramatically since 1980, median household income is higher compared to other OECD nations, so students have higher disposable income. Financial aid comes primarily in the form of loans, scholarships, and grants. Attending the top 10 ranked U.S. universities costs an average of $45,000 per year in tuition and fees as of 2019.
Some believe the American system of education has declined relative to other nations, with surveys showing American students ranking around the middle of OECD nations. In the Program for International Student Assessment, U.S. high school students ranked below average in math skills compared to students from other developed countries. Colleges and universities increasingly rely on adjuncts and part-time professors who get paid poorly for teaching a large number of classes. Meanwhile, student debt has risen to over $1.5 trillion.
Military, law enforcement, crime
The president is commander-in-chief of the military, which has 1.4 million active-duty personnel as of 2018. Defense spending accounted for 15% of federal outlays and 3.4% of GDP, which was the world’s highest military expenditure in 2018. Since the Persian Gulf War, the military has focused on the Middle East, particularly the War on Terror. Inabsolute terms, the United States has the world’s largest and most expensive military. As of 2018, the U.S. has 800 formal military bases in 80 countries worldwide.
Law enforcement is handled mostly by local police departments and sheriff’s offices. Federal agencies include the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Marshals, Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Department of Homeland Security, and border control. Incarceration and capital punishment are more common in the U.S. than in other developed nations. In 2018, there were 698 people incarcerated per 100,000;among OECD countries, only El Salvador, Turkmenistan, Costa Rica and Thailand had higher incarceration rates. In 2018, 2.12 million people were incarcerated in the United States, including 1.5 million in state and federal prisons and 745,000 in local jails. The U.S. operates the Guantánamo Bay detention camp in Cuba.
The U.S. homicide rate was 6.2 per 100,000 people in 2017, 57 times higher than major European countries and similar to El Salvador and Kenya. Over 15,000 people were murdered in the U.S. in 2018. Americans are more likely to be victims of certain crimes than other nations. Globally, crime decreased from the 1990s to 2019. Crime remains higher in cities and regions close to the U.S.-Mexico border, particularly drug and gang violence. The FBI recorded 16,214 murders in 2018, a 1.3% decline from 2017. The largest shares were gang-related (13%), arguments (28%), and felony-related murders (34%). Mass shootings killed 47 people in 2019, according to Mother Jones.
The country has one of the highest rates of gun-related deaths (firearm fatalities per capita) among developed countries, at about 12 deaths per 100,000 people in 2017. This rate is about 20 times higher than other high-income countries. Gun ownership rights are the subject of contentious debate. In 2017, about three quarters of murders were committed with firearms. Polls show a majority of Americans believe gun violence is an extremely or very serious problem. Suicides account for 60% of gun-related deaths.
The future of the United States politically, economically, socially and security
The United States is a major world superpower that has dominated global politics, economics, technology, entertainment and culture for over a century. However, the 21st century has brought new challenges that threaten America’s preeminent status. This article will examine the potential future of the United States in the key areas of politics, economics, society and security over the next 10-20 years. It will analyze the current trajectory and make predictions on where the country is heading based on current trends.
The political landscape of the United States is likely to undergo major changes in the coming decades. The nation’s demographics are shifting, with the country becoming more ethnically diverse and the population aging significantly. This could lead to greater political polarization and gridlock as parties struggle to appeal to changing voting blocs . The costs of campaigns continue rising exponentially, further entrenching establishment candidates and shutting out outsiders . Gerrymandering of districts and the influence of moneyed interests threaten to skew representation away from the popular will .
In terms of the party system, the Republican Party faces an identity crisis as it struggles to broaden its appeal beyond its mostly white, rural base. Demographic trends favor the more diverse Democratic Party over the long run, but Republicans may be able to extend their competitiveness through voter suppression laws and restrictions on immigration . The two-party duopoly itself is under threat, with polls showing over 40% of voters now identifying as independent and calling for more options . Third parties such as the Libertarians and Greens may gain more traction in the coming years.
Overall, these factors point to increasing dissatisfaction with government and more anti-establishment sentiment. Populist movements on both sides of the spectrum could shake up the traditional party power structures . The country may see higher voter volatility, weaker party loyalty and more swings in power from election to election. For the presidency, projecting power will depend less on stable partisan coalitions and more on a candidate’s ability to create their own diverse winning coalition . This points to an environment where outsider candidates like Donald Trump may be more competitive against veteran politicians.
The United States has the largest economy in the world, but its continued growth faces some uncertainties in the coming decades. While the American economy has recovered strongly from the Great Recession, the current expansion is one of the longest ever and due to end soon . Key structural weaknesses like declining labor force participation, stagnant wages and rising inequality still hamper growth for much of the population . Automation and AI threaten to exacerbate job losses and income inequality going forward . Globalization and technology forces also induce more frequent booms and busts .
At the same time, America’s share of global GDP is likely to decline as developing countries like China and India continue to expand. Low-cost emerging economies will also continue to take away manufacturing and other jobs . Ballooning entitlement spending on healthcare and social security as the population ages may crowd out important investments in areas like infrastructure and education . Mountainous public debt could also precipitate a fiscal crisis. The Federal Reserve has limited ability to stave off another financial crash once interest rates eventually rise.
On the positive side, America’s dynamic private sector, top universities and leadership in key technological frontiers like computing, biotech and energy gives it an edge in driving innovation. Ample natural resources and a still-open immigration system provides the economy with vital human capital . Projected increases in energy production from shale oil, gas and renewables could also provide a significant boost . With the right policies and investments, the U.S. could still experience decent growth. But escalating economic challenges pose risks that will test the adaptability of America’s free market economy.
American society has experienced deepening divides along demographic, cultural, racial and economic lines in recent years. Economic inequality is approaching record highs, with income gains overly concentrated among the top 1%. The middle class continues to hollow out while increasing numbers of Americans join the ranks of the poor or the precariat living paycheck to paycheck. Real wages have stagnated for decades even as costs for healthcare, housing and education skyrocket .
Going forward, automation threatens to displace over 40% of jobs, which could dramatically exacerbate inequality . Access to well-paying jobs with benefits continues declining, with more people relying on contract or gig work . Without interventions like a universal basic income, tens of millions may become impoverished and unable to afford a middle-class livelihood . Increasing numbers of Americans already report they cannot handle a $400 emergency expense .
Racial divisions show little sign of healing, with demographic changes and increased diversity causing anxiety among some white Americans . Income and wealth disparities between races remain enormous . Far-right extremism, hate crimes and gun violence threaten social cohesion even as progressive movements like Black Lives Matter grow . Trust in institutions like government, media and business continues declining .
Family structures are also transforming, with people marrying later, having fewer children and more children being raised by single parents . About 40-45% of new marriages end in divorce. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death as an opioid epidemic claims tens of thousands of lives each year. Mental health issues like depression and anxiety are also on the rise .
Amid these pressures, overall happiness and life satisfaction have declined to their lowest levels in over a decade, which could get worse if economic instability increases . Growing pessimism about the future signals dangers ahead for the social fabric. America’s greatness has long rested on inclusive growth, shared prosperity and a confident middle class. Restoring this promise will be critical to avoiding worsening divides and discontent.
The global security environment has become more unstable and unpredictable in light of geopolitical shifts like China’s rise and increasing authoritarianism. The United States faces complex threats from both state and non-state actors. Its post-Cold War supremacy is declining while rivals like China and Russia assert themselves more aggressively and seek to challenge the Western-led international order .
The risk of major interstate wars may increase over flashpoints like Taiwan, the South China Sea, Iran, North Korea and Ukraine. Nuclear proliferation among smaller states like North Korea also raises the chances of a regional nuclear exchange. China continues rapidly expanding its military capabilities and now spends nearly as much on defense as the U.S. . It aims to achieve regional preeminence and deter American intervention in Asia through anti-access/area-denial capabilities . Russia has also rebuilt much of its Soviet-era military power and demonstrated willingness to use force in Georgia, Ukraine and Syria. With increasing military spending and assertiveness from rivals, the U.S. faces more contested domains and risks of conflict.
Meanwhile, terrorism remains an endemic threat even as the U.S. downscales from the large counterinsurgency campaigns of the 2000s. The rise of ISIS shows how terrorist organizations can suddenly gain control of territory. New dangers like cyber and biological warfare create additional vulnerabilities. America’s own hyperpartisanship and internal divisions could also severely hamper its ability to respond to external threats. Maintaining national strength and unity will be crucial to navigating an increasingly hazardous world.
Here is a summary of my thoughts on the future of the United States in various areas:
- The two-party political system is likely to remain dominant, though third parties may play a bigger role, especially with more partisan polarization.
- Demographic shifts, like rising diversity and education levels, could advantage Democrats electorally long-term.
- The Supreme Court is likely to remain a flashpoint, as its ideological balance has consequences for major issues.
- Voting rights and election laws will continue to be contested, as parties vie for advantage. More states may expand mail/early voting.
- Gerrymandering will remain contentious but some reforms like independent redistricting commissions could emerge.
- Campaign finance laws may be revisited, though substantial reform is an uphill battle.
- The US is likely to remain a leading global economic power but face greater competition from China and other emerging economies.
- Pressures from technology, automation and AI will transform the labor force and widen inequalities. New policies may be needed to adapt the workforce.
- The US needs to maintain innovation and R&D spending to drive next-generation technologies like renewable energy, biotech and computing.
- Reducing income inequality, fixing infrastructure, improving education and healthcare will be critical for economic strength. The tax system may need reforms.
- Trade policy will balance protectionism against maintaining US competitiveness and leadership in the global economy.
- The US will grow more diverse and experience generational change. Aging boomers will reshape politics and policies.
- Income inequality and lack of upward mobility will have to be addressed amid automation and globalization pressures.
- The US may move gradually toward a more comprehensive social safety net with broader healthcare access, paid leave, etc, but opposition remains strong.
- Ongoing debates over issues like institutional racism, abortion, immigration and gun rights will continue, fueled by partisan divides.
- The US will seek to maintain military primacy but reorient from post-9/11 Middle East deployments to challenges from China and Russia.
- Cybersecurity of elections, commerce, infrastructure and more will be a major focus given growing threats.
- Nuclear nonproliferation efforts will continue as weapons spread and arms control treaties are strained.
- Domestic terrorism and lone actor attacks may emerge as prime security concerns, requiring new legal and enforcement approaches.
So in summary, the US seems likely to be tested on many fronts and will need to be adaptable and innovative to maintain its leadership role. But it retains unique strengths that will make it highly competitive globally.
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