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The United States is a country in North America. It is the second largest on the continent in terms of land mass and the first for population. It borders Canada to the north and Mexico to the south, and has coastlines across both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
History of the United States
The first inhabitants of North America were indigenous tribes that crossed the Bering Land Bridge from Asia during the last Ice Age. These peoples spread throughout the new land. They formed thriving tribes with distinct languages and a rich cultural heritage.
Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492, heralding the beginning of European expansionism into North America. The British, French, and Spanish empires formed colonies along the eastern half of the continent, triggering centuries of strife with the displaced native peoples.
The British Empire established thirteen colonies. Relations between colonies and mother country deteriorated as the Empire exploited the settlements for money and the rich resources in the area. In 1776, public anti-Imperialist sentiment reached a peak. During the Second Continental Congress, the colonies formally banded together as the United States of America and rejected British rule. With the aid of France, the fledgling nation fought and won the Revolutionary War.
At that point in time, the USA claimed most of the continent east of the Mississippi River. The nation expanded when President Thomas Jefferson purchased the Louisiana Territory from France. American settlers flooded west, pushing indigenous tribes into harsher and more remote areas with resulting violent conflict. Soon afterwards, under the doctrine of Manifest Destiny, the United States had expanded to the Pacific coastline.
The nation was then divided by the Civil War of 1861-1865, a bloody conflict between the Northern and Southern states. This war was caused by a number of economic and cultural tensions, most notably the legality and morality of slavery. When the North won the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery and attempted to reunite the nation.
Recovery was slow in the South, with so many lives lost and their industrial and economic infrastructure gutted. The Reconstruction era that followed was only partially successful at restoring peace. In this time period, freed slaves were given the right to vote and the 14th Amendment was passed to protect individual rights. On the other hand, Southern politicians passed Jim Crow laws to keep African Americans second-class citizens.
An overall period of economic growth and scientific advancements followed. Lingering skirmishes with disenfranchised indigenous tribes came to an end as the tribes were given reservations and became partially sovereign nations. After the United States established a network of railroads and immigrant labor flooded in, the nation became known as an industrial powerhouse.
The birth of the 20th century brought a number of changes addressing social inequality. The Progressive movement led the march for Women’s Suffrage and protested the treatment of African Americans. Unfortunately, many of these hoped-for social reforms were sidelined by the advent of World War I. The United States joined its European allies in 1917 and was instrumental in their victory.
Post-war America enjoyed a brief economic boom. Unfortunately, that ended with the Wall Street Crash of 1929. The United States plunged into a lengthy economic depression. President Franklin D. Roosevelt implemented a sweeping array of progressive programs to combat the Great Depression. The New Deal of the 1930s included reforms like minimum wage and institutions such as Social Security, two ‘safety nets’ that are still relied upon by Americans today.
The United States at first remained neutral during World War II, but after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the nation joined the Allies. The USA played vital roles in victory in Europe and ended conflict in Asia by deploying nuclear bombs on two Japanese cities.
Although they had cooperated during WWII, the United States and the Soviet Union quickly became hostile. The USA engaged in a Cold War with the ambitious, rival industrial superpower. This involved stockpiling weapons, a race to land first on the moon (which the USA achieved in 1969), and political maneuvering around the globe. Meanwhile, the Civil Rights movement of the 60s, spearheaded by charismatic speakers like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., helped to spur social reforms that addressed racial inequality in society and the courts system.
The USSR dissolved in 1991. The United States enjoyed a period as the world’s only superpower. However, it has not been a peaceful era. The USA engaged in the Iraq War, and after a terrorist attack in 2001, also went to war in Afghanistan. The enormous expenses of these conflicts, coupled with banking mismanagement, plunged the United States into its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
The USA’s most recent history has been marked by economic recovery and new advances in civil rights. The United States’ first African-American president, President Barack Obama, was elected and numerous social reforms to combat discrimination have been passed. It remains to be seen what direction the country will take next.
Population and People
The United States has a land area of 9.8 million km/sq and is the 3rd most populated country in the world with a total population of just under 300 million (2005 census). The primary ethnic groups are Caucasian at 65%, 15.1% Hispanic (including Latinos and those of Central and South American descent), 12.85% African American, 4.43% Asian, and approximately 3% of others including Hawaiian and Pacific Islander. Approximately 1.6% of the population are multi-racial. Native Americans account for just under 1% of the total population.
The official language of the United States is English. There are major regional variations in dialect, and there are isolated areas where French and German are commonly spoken (usually by people of that heritage). Spanish is becoming increasingly represented in media, signs, and in printed materials. It’s estimated that over 11% of the population speak Spanish as their first and primary language. Hawaiian is the official language of the state, though the vast majority of Hawaiians speak English as well.
There is a strong diversity of religions represented in the United States. 46% of the population considers themselves Protestant, while just under 21% are Roman Catholic. Mormons make up over 1.5%, while nearly 2% are of the Jewish faith. Almost 23% of the population consider themselves unaffiliated.
The United States has a diverse population distribution. Slightly over half of the citizens are between the ages 25 and 65. 15% are at or beyond retirement age, and 32% are 24 or younger. The average citizen’s age is 38, and there are slightly more women than men. The 2016 birthrate was at 0.81% and is slowly declining over time.
Major population centers are scattered throughout the country. Both the east and west coastlines have much larger towns and are denser than areas in the middle of the country. The three largest cities are New York City (8.2 million) in the northeast, Los Angeles (3.8 million) in the southwestern corner, and Chicago (2.8 million) in the upper middle. It’s estimated that over 80% of the total population live in an urban area.
There is a strong diversity in the population of each state. Generally speaking, the northern central states have a much lower population density than the states along either coast. The three most populous states are California (37 million), Texas (25 million), and New York (19 million). The three least populated states are North Dakota (672,000), Vermont (625,000), and Wyoming (563,000).
Land and Environment
The United States is the fourth largest country on the planet with a total land area of 9.6 million square kilometers. It has just under 20,000 kilometers of coastline. The land boarders are with Mexico (3,155km) and Canada (8,893km). There are six time zones within the United States: Eastern, Central, Mountain, Pacific, Alaskan, and Hawaiian.
Being such a large country, there is a tremendous variety in the landscapes. The highest elevation is at Mount Denali (formerly Mount McKinley) with an elevation of 6,190m/20308ft. The lowest point is Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park in California with an elevation of negative 86m/282ft.
In addition to the fifty states, the United States has fourteen protectorates and territories. The largest of these is Puerto Rico with a land area of 3,151 square miles and a population of just under 4 million. Other notable territories include Guam with a land area 212 square miles and the Northern Mariana Islands with a population of approximately 86,000.
The GDP per capita in the United States is $54,000. The total GDP purchasing power in 2015 was 17.95 trillion dollars and the growth rate averages between 2.2% and 2.5%. As of November 2016, the unemployment rate was 4.9%.
The labor force of the United States is divided between technical and managerial jobs (37%), industrial and manufacturing jobs (20%), and sales and service jobs (41%). 15.1% of the population is below the federal poverty line. The United States also has a high level of public debt, which is estimated to be at around 73% in 2015.
The United States has used its multicultural identity to produce entertainment that is popular world-wide. It is the birthplace of Jazz, Country, Rock ‘n Roll, and Rap/Hip-Hop. Hollywood movies have broad international appeal and some earn billions in the box office. Famous artists include Georgia O’Keeffe and Andy Warhol.
The most popular sports are football, baseball, basketball, and hockey in the North. Some of America’s most respected newspapers include The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Famous authors include Edgar Allen Poe, widely credited for beginning the Mystery genre, Mark Twain, and Earnest Hemingway.
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