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In the
United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country Continental United States, primarily located in North America. It consists of 50 U.S. state, states, a Washington, D.C., ...

United States
, a county is an
administrative Administration may refer to: Management of organizations * Management Management (or managing) is the administration of an organization, whether it is a business, a not-for-profit organization, or government body. Management includes th ...

administrative
or political subdivision of a
state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspaper), a daily newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina, Un ...
that consists of a geographic region with specific
boundaries
boundaries
and usually some level of governmental authority. The term "
county A county is a geographical region of a country used for administrative or other purposesChambers Dictionary The ''Chambers Dictionary'' (''TCD'') was first published by William Chambers (publisher), William and Robert Chambers (publisher bo ...
" is used in 48 U.S. states, while
Louisiana Louisiana (Standard French Standard French (in French: ''le français standard'', ''le français normé'', ''le français neutre'' eutral Frenchor ''le français international'' nternational French is an unofficial term for a standard ...

Louisiana
and
Alaska Alaska (; ale, Alax̂sxax̂; ; ems, Alas'kaaq; Central Alaskan Yup'ik language, Yup'ik: ''Alaskaq''; tli, Anáaski) is a U.S. state in the Western United States, on the northwest extremity of the country's West Coast of the United State ...

Alaska
have functionally equivalent subdivisions called
parishes A parish is a territorial entity in many Christianity, Christian denominations, constituting a division within a diocese. A parish is under the pastoral care and clerical jurisdiction of a priest#Christianity, priest, often termed a parish priest, ...
and
boroughs A borough is an administrative division Administrative division, administrative unitArticle 3(1). , country subdivision, administrative region, subnational entity, first-level subdivision, as well as many similar terms, are generic names for ...
, respectively. The specific governmental powers of counties vary widely between the states. Counties have significant functions in all states except
Rhode Island Rhode Island (, like ''road''), officially the State of Rhode Island, is a state in the New England New England is a region comprising six states in the Northeastern United States The Northeastern United States (also referred to as ...
and
Connecticut Connecticut () is the southernmost state in the New England region of the United States. As of the 2010 United States census, 2010 Census, it has the highest per-capita income, second-highest level of List of U.S. states and territories by H ...
, where county governments have been abolished but the entities remain for administrative or statistical purposes.
Massachusetts Massachusetts (, ), officially the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, is the most populous state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * ...

Massachusetts
has removed most government functions from eight of its 14 counties, while Alaska's
Unorganized Borough The Unorganized Borough is made up of the portions of the U.S. state of Alaska Alaska (; ale, Alax̂sxax̂; ; ems, Alas'kaaq; Central Alaskan Yup'ik language, Yup'ik: ''Alaskaq''; tli, Anáaski) is a U.S. state in the Western United ...
never had any borough-level governmental function. Most counties have subdivisions which may include
townships A township is a kind of human settlement In geography, statistics and archaeology, a settlement, locality or populated place is a community in which people live. The complexity of a settlement can range from a small number of dwellings g ...
,
municipalities A municipality is usually a single administrative division Administrative division, administrative unitArticle 3(1). , country subdivision, administrative region, subnational entity, first-level subdivision, as well as many similar terms, ...
and
unincorporated areas File:Entering Heinola, Minnesota.jpg, Sign at Heinola, Minnesota, Heinola, an unincorporated community in Otter Tail County, Minnesota An unincorporated area is a region not governed by a local municipal corporation. Similarly, an unincorporated ...
. Others have no further divisions, or may serve as a
consolidated city-county In United States local government, a consolidated city-county is formed when one or more cities A city is a large human settlement In geography, statistics and archaeology, a settlement, locality or populated place is a community in whi ...
where a city and a county have been merged into a unified jurisdiction. Some municipalities are in multiple counties;
New York City New York, often called New York City to distinguish it from New York State New York is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of ...

New York City
is uniquely partitioned into five counties, referred to at the city government level as
boroughs A borough is an administrative division Administrative division, administrative unitArticle 3(1). , country subdivision, administrative region, subnational entity, first-level subdivision, as well as many similar terms, are generic names for ...
. Conversely, the independent cities of the states of
Virginia Virginia (), officially the Commonwealth of Virginia, is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), '' ...

Virginia
,
Maryland Maryland ( ) is a U.S. state, state in the Mid-Atlantic (United States), Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, bordering Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia to its south and west; Pennsylvania to its north; and Delaware ...

Maryland
,
Missouri Missouri is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspaper), a daily newspaper in ...

Missouri
, and
Nevada Nevada (, ) is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspaper), a daily newspaper i ...

Nevada
are municipalities that do not legally belong to any county, but may still function as if they were consolidated city-counties. The number of counties per state ranges from the three counties of Delaware to the 254 counties of Texas. County populations also vary widely: in 2017, according to the Census Bureau, more than half the U.S. population is concentrated in just 143 of the more than 3,000 counties, or just 4.6% of all counties; the five largest counties ordered by population are
Los Angeles County, California Los Angeles County, officially the County of Los Angeles, and sometimes abbreviated as L.A. County, is the most populous county in the United States and in the U.S. state of California, with more than ten million inhabitants as of the 2020 Uni ...
;
Cook County, Illinois Cook County is the most populous county A county is a geographical region of a country used for administrative or other purposesChambers Dictionary The ''Chambers Dictionary'' (''TCD'') was first published by William Chambers (publish ...
;
Harris County, Texas Harris County is located in the U.S. state of Texas. As of the 2020 United States Census, 2020 census, the population was 4,731,145, making it the most populous county in Texas and the List of the most populous counties in the United States, th ...
;
Maricopa County, Arizona Maricopa County is located in the south-central part of the U.S. state of Arizona. 2020 United States census, As of the 2020 census, the county's population was 4,420,568, making it the state's most populous county, and List of the most populou ...
; and
San Diego County, California San Diego County, officially the County of San Diego, is a county A county is a geographical region of a country used for administrative or other purposesChambers Dictionary The ''Chambers Dictionary'' (''TCD'') was first published by W ...
. The
United States Census Bureau The United States Census Bureau (USCB), officially the Bureau of the Census, is a principal agency of the U.S. Federal Statistical System, responsible for producing data about the American American(s) may refer to: * American, something of, ...
uses the term "county equivalent" to describe places that are comparable to counties, but called by different names. Louisiana parishes, the organized boroughs of Alaska, independent cities, and the
District of Columbia ) , image_skyline = , image_caption = Clockwise from top left: the Washington Monument The Washington Monument is an obelisk within the National Mall The National Mall is a Landscape architecture, landscape ...

District of Columbia
are equivalent to counties for administrative purposes. Alaska's Unorganized Borough is further divided into 11 census areas that are statistically equivalent to counties.
Territories of the United States Territories of the United States are sub-national administrative division Administrative division, administrative unitArticle 3(1). , country subdivision, administrative region, subnational entity, first-level subdivision, as well as ma ...
do not have counties; instead, the United States Census Bureau also divides them into county equivalents. The U.S. Census Bureau counts
American Samoa American Samoa ( sm, Amerika Sāmoa, ; also ' or ') is an unincorporated territory of the United States Under United States The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US), or America, is a countr ...

American Samoa
's districts and atolls as county equivalents."2010 FIPS Codes for Counties and County Equivalent Entities"
Census.gov. Retrieved July 6, 2018.
American Samoa locally has places called "counties", but these entities are considered to be "
minor civil division A minor civil division (MCD) is a term used by the United States Census Bureau The United States Census Bureau (USCB), officially the Bureau of the Census, is a principal agency of the Federal Statistical System of the United States, U.S. Feder ...
s" (not true counties) by the U.S. Census Bureau. , there are currently 3,143 counties and county equivalents in the 50 states and the
District of Columbia ) , image_skyline = , image_caption = Clockwise from top left: the Washington Monument The Washington Monument is an obelisk within the National Mall The National Mall is a Landscape architecture, landscape ...

District of Columbia
. If the 100 county equivalents in the U.S. territories are counted, then the total is 3,243 counties and county equivalents in the United States. The county with the largest population,
Los Angeles County Los Angeles County, officially the County of Los Angeles, and sometimes abbreviated as L.A. County, is the most populous county in the United States The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US), o ...
(10,039,107), and the county with the largest land area,
San Bernardino County San Bernardino County, officially the County of San Bernardino, is a county A county is a geographical region of a country used for administrative or other purposesChambers Dictionary, L. Brookes (ed.), 2005, Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd, ...
, border each other in
Southern California Southern California (sometimes known as SoCal; es, Sur de California) is a geographic and cultural region that generally comprises the southern portion of the U.S. state of California California is a in the . With over 39.3million resi ...

Southern California
(however, eleven boroughs in Alaska are larger in area than San Bernardino County).


History

The origin of the American counties are in the
counties of England The counties of England are areas used for different purposes, which include administrative, geographical, cultural and political demarcation. The term 'county' is defined in several ways and can apply to similar or the same areas used by each ...
.
English English usually refers to: * English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language first spoken in History of Anglo-Saxon England, early medieval England, which has eventually become the World language, leading lan ...

English
(after 1707
British British may refer to: Peoples, culture, and language * British people, nationals or natives of the United Kingdom, British Overseas Territories, and Crown Dependencies. ** Britishness, the British identity and common culture * British English, ...

British
) colonists brought to their colonies in
North America North America is a continent A continent is any of several large landmasses. Generally identified by convention (norm), convention rather than any strict criteria, up to seven geographical regions are commonly regarded as continen ...

North America
a political subdivision that they already used in the British
metropole The metropole (from the Greek ''metropolis in the background A metropolis () is a large city or conurbation which is a significant economic, political, and cultural center for a country or region, and an important hub for regional or int ...

metropole
: the counties. Counties were among the earliest units of
local government Local government is a generic term for the lowest tiers of public administration Public administration is the implementation of government policy Public policy is a course of action created and/or enacted, typically by a government ...
established in the
Thirteen Colonies The Thirteen Colonies, also known as the Thirteen British Colonies or the Thirteen American Colonies, were a group of Kingdom of Great Britain, British colonies on the Atlantic coast of North America. Founded in the 17th and 18th centuries, th ...
that would become the United States.
Virginia Virginia (), officially the Commonwealth of Virginia, is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), '' ...
created the first counties in order to ease the administrative workload in Jamestown. The
House of Burgesses The House of Burgesses was the elected representative element of the Virginia General Assembly The Virginia General Assembly is the legislative body A legislature is an assembly Assembly may refer to: Organisations and meetings * Deliber ...
divided the colony first into four "incorporations" in 1617 and finally into eight shires (or counties) in 1634: James City, Henrico, Charles City,
Charles River The Charles River (sometimes called the River Charles or simply the Charles) is an river in eastern Massachusetts. It flows northeast from Hopkinton, Massachusetts, Hopkinton to Boston, Massachusetts, Boston along a highly meandering route, t ...
, Warrosquyoake, Accomac,
Elizabeth City Elizabeth City is a city in Pasquotank County, North Carolina, Pasquotank County, North Carolina, in the United States. As of the 2010 census, it had a population of 18,683. Elizabeth City is the county seat and largest city of Pasquotank Count ...
, and Warwick River. America's oldest intact county court records can be found at
Eastville, Virginia Eastville is a town in Northampton County, Virginia, Northampton County, Virginia, United States. The population was 203 at the 2000 United States Census, 2000 census. It is the county seat of Northampton County, Virginia, Northampton County. The No ...
, in Northampton (originally Accomac) County, dating to 1632.
Maryland Maryland ( ) is a U.S. state, state in the Mid-Atlantic (United States), Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, bordering Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia to its south and west; Pennsylvania to its north; and Delaware ...
established its first county, St. Mary's, in 1637, and
Massachusetts Massachusetts (, ), officially the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, is the most populous state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * ...
followed in 1643.
Pennsylvania Pennsylvania ( , elsewhere ; pdc, Pennsilfaani), officially the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, is a landlocked A landlocked country is a country that does not have territory connected to an ocean or whose coastlines lie on endorheic basi ...
and
New York New York most commonly refers to: * New York City, the most populous city in the United States, located in the state of New York * New York (state), a state in the northeastern United States New York may also refer to: Film and television * New ...
delegated significant power and responsibility from the colony government to county governments and thereby established a pattern for most of the United States, although counties remained relatively weak in
New England New England is a region comprising six states in the Northeastern United States The Northeastern United States (also referred to as the American Northeast, the Northeast, and the East Coast) is a geographical region In geography ...

New England
. When
independence upright=1.0, Pedro surrounded by a crowd in Brazil's independence on September 7, 1822.">Independence of Brazil">Brazil's independence on September 7, 1822. Independence is a condition of a person, nation, country, or state State may ref ...
came, the
framers of the Constitution The Constitutional Convention (contemporarily known as the Federal Convention, the Philadelphia Convention, or the Grand Convention at Philadelphia) took place from May 25 to September 17, 1787, in the old Pennsylvania State House (now known as ...
left the matter to the states. Subsequently, state constitutions conceptualized county governments as arms of the state. Louisiana instead adopted the local divisions called ''
parishes A parish is a territorial entity in many Christianity, Christian denominations, constituting a division within a diocese. A parish is under the pastoral care and clerical jurisdiction of a priest#Christianity, priest, often termed a parish priest, ...
'' that dated back to both the
Spanish colonial Spanish Colonial architecture represents Spanish colonization of the Americas, Spanish colonial influence on New World and East Indies' cities and towns, and it is still being seen in the architecture as well as in the Urban planning, city plannin ...
and French colonial periods when the land was dominated by the
Catholic Church The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest Christian church, with 1.3 billion baptised Baptism (from the Greek language, Greek noun βάπτισμα ''báptisma'') is a Christians, Christian ...

Catholic Church
. In the twentieth century, the role of local governments strengthened and counties began providing more services, acquiring
home rule Home rule is government of a colony, dependent country, or region by its own citizens. It is thus the power of a part (administrative division Administrative division, administrative unitArticle 3(1). , country subdivision, administrative ...
and
county commission A county commission (or a board of county commissioners) is a group of elected officials collectively charged with administering the county A county is a geographical region of a country used for administrative or other purposesChambers Dict ...
s to pass
local ordinance A local ordinance is a law Law is a system A system is a group of Interaction, interacting or interrelated elements that act according to a set of rules to form a unified whole. A system, surrounded and influenced by its environment, ...
s pertaining to their
unincorporated area Sign at Heinola, an unincorporated community in Otter Tail County, Minnesota.">Minnesota.html" ;"title="Otter Tail County, Minnesota">Otter Tail County, Minnesota. An unincorporated area is a region not governed by a local municipal corporat ...
s. In 1955, delegates to the
Alaska Constitutional Convention The Constitution of the State of Alaska was ratified on April 4, 1956 and took effect with Alaska Alaska (; ale, Alax̂sxax̂; ; ems, Alas'kaaq; Central Alaskan Yup'ik language, Yup'ik: ''Alaskaq''; tli, Anáaski) is a U.S. state in ...
wanted to avoid the traditional county system and adopted their own unique model with different types of ''boroughs'' varying in powers and duties. In some states, these powers are partly or mostly devolved to the counties' smaller divisions usually called
townships A township is a kind of human settlement In geography, statistics and archaeology, a settlement, locality or populated place is a community in which people live. The complexity of a settlement can range from a small number of dwellings g ...
, though in New York, New England and Wisconsin they are called "towns". The county may or may not be able to override its townships on certain matters, depending on state law. The newest county in the United States is the city and county of
Broomfield, Colorado The City and County of Broomfield is a consolidated city and county located in the U.S. State of Colorado. Broomfield has a consolidated government which operates under Article XX, Sections 10-13 of the Constitution of the State of Colorado. Br ...
, established in 2001 as a
consolidated city-county In United States local government, a consolidated city-county is formed when one or more cities A city is a large human settlement In geography, statistics and archaeology, a settlement, locality or populated place is a community in whi ...
, previously part of four counties. The newest county equivalents are the Alaskan census areas of
Chugach Chugach , Chugach Sugpiaq or Chugachigmiut is the name of an Alaska Native people in the region of the Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound on the southern coast of Alaska. The Chugach people are an Alutiiq (Pacific Eskimo) people who speak th ...
and
Copper RiverCopper River may refer to several places: *Copper River (Alaska), in the United States *Copper River (British Columbia), a tributary of the Skeena River in Canada {{place name disambiguation ...
, both established in 2019, and the Alaskan boroughs of Petersburg established in 2013, Wrangell established in 2008, and
Skagway The Municipality and Borough of Skagway is a first-class borough A borough is an administrative division in various English language, English-speaking countries. In principle, the term ''borough'' designates a self-governing walled town, althoug ...

Skagway
established in 2007.


County variations


Consolidated city-counties

A consolidated city-county is simultaneously a city, which is a
municipality A municipality is usually a single administrative division Administrative division, administrative unitArticle 3(1). , country subdivision, administrative region, subnational entity, first-level subdivision, as well as many similar terms, ...
(municipal corporation), and a county, which is an
administrative division Administrative division, administrative unitArticle 3(1). , country subdivision, administrative region, subnational entity, first-level subdivision, as well as many similar terms, are generic names for geographical areas into which a particular ...

administrative division
of a state, having the powers and responsibilities of both types of entities. There are 40 consolidated city-counties in the U.S., including
Augusta, Georgia Augusta (), officially Augusta–Richmond County, is a consolidated city-county In local government in the United States, United States local government, a consolidated city-county is formed when one or more city, cities and their surrounding Co ...
;
Denver, Colorado Denver () is a consolidated city and county, the capital Capital most commonly refers to: * Capital letter Letter case (or just case) is the distinction between the letters that are in larger uppercase or capitals (or more forma ...

Denver, Colorado
;
Honolulu, Hawaii Honolulu (; ) is the capital Capital most commonly refers to: * Capital letter Letter case (or just case) is the distinction between the letters that are in larger uppercase or capitals (or more formally ''majuscule'') and smaller lo ...
; ;
Jacksonville, Florida Jacksonville is a city located on the Atlantic coast of Florida Florida is a located in the region of the . Florida is bordered to the west by the , to the northwest by , to the north by , to the east by and , and to the south by the ...
;
Louisville, Kentucky Louisville ( , , ) is the largest city A city is a large human settlement In geography, statistics and archaeology, a settlement, locality or populated place is a community in which people live. The complexity of a settlement can ...
;
Lexington, Kentucky Lexington is the List of cities in Kentucky, second-largest city in Kentucky and the county seat of Fayette County, Kentucky, Fayette County. By population, it is the List of United States cities by population, 57th-largest city in the United St ...
;
Kansas City, Kansas Kansas City, abbreviated as "KCK", is the third-largest city in the U.S. state of Kansas, the county seat of Wyandotte County, Kansas, Wyandotte County, and the third-largest city of the Kansas City metropolitan area. As of the 2020 United St ...
;
Nashville, Tennessee Nashville is the capital Capital most commonly refers to: * Capital letter Letter case (or just case) is the distinction between the letters that are in larger uppercase or capitals (or more formally ''majuscule'') and smaller lowerca ...
;
New Orleans, Louisiana New Orleans (,New Orleans
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Philadelphia (colloquially known simply as Philly) is the largest city in the Commonwealth A commonwealth is a traditional English term for a political community founded for the common good In philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is ...

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
; and
San Francisco, California San Francisco (; Spanish language, Spanish for "Francis of Assisi, Saint Francis"), officially the City and County of San Francisco, is a cultural, commercial, and financial center in the U.S. state of California. Located in Northern Califo ...

San Francisco, California
. Similarly, some of
Alaska Alaska (; ale, Alax̂sxax̂; ; ems, Alas'kaaq; Central Alaskan Yup'ik language, Yup'ik: ''Alaskaq''; tli, Anáaski) is a U.S. state in the Western United States, on the northwest extremity of the country's West Coast of the United State ...

Alaska
's boroughs have merged with their principal cities creating unified city-boroughs. Some such consolidations and mergers have created cities that rank among the geographically largest cities in the world, though often with population densities far below those of most urban areas.


County equivalents

The term ''county equivalents'' is used by the
United States Census Bureau The United States Census Bureau (USCB), officially the Bureau of the Census, is a principal agency of the U.S. Federal Statistical System, responsible for producing data about the American American(s) may refer to: * American, something of, ...
to describe divisions that are comparable to counties but called by different names: * Alaska census areas: Most of the land area of Alaska is not contained within any of Alaska's 19 organized boroughs. This vast area, larger than
France France (), officially the French Republic (french: link=no, République française), is a transcontinental country This is a list of countries located on more than one continent A continent is one of several large landmasses ...

France
and
Germany ) , image_map = , map_caption = , map_width = 250px , capital = Berlin Berlin (; ) is the Capital city, capital and List of cities in Germany by population, largest city of Germany by both area and population. Its 3,769,495 inh ...

Germany
combined, is officially referred to by the Alaska state government as the ''
Unorganized Borough The Unorganized Borough is made up of the portions of the U.S. state of Alaska Alaska (; ale, Alax̂sxax̂; ; ems, Alas'kaaq; Central Alaskan Yup'ik language, Yup'ik: ''Alaskaq''; tli, Anáaski) is a U.S. state in the Western United ...
'' and outside of other incorporated borough limits, has no independent "county" government, although several incorporated city governments exist within its boundaries; the majority of it is governed and run by the State of Alaska as an extension of state government. The
United States Census Bureau The United States Census Bureau (USCB), officially the Bureau of the Census, is a principal agency of the U.S. Federal Statistical System, responsible for producing data about the American American(s) may refer to: * American, something of, ...
, in cooperation with the Alaska state government for census and electoral districting purposes, has divided the Unorganized Borough into 11 census areas for statistical purposes only.These 11 statistical areas are used solely by the
United States Census Bureau The United States Census Bureau (USCB), officially the Bureau of the Census, is a principal agency of the U.S. Federal Statistical System, responsible for producing data about the American American(s) may refer to: * American, something of, ...
to tabulate population and other census statistics within the Unorganized Borough; they have no legal basis in Alaska state or federal law other than for electoral representation and federal financial assistance purposes.
*
Louisiana parishes The U.S. state of Louisiana is divided into 64 parishes (French language, French: ''paroisses'', Spanish language, Spanish: ''parroquias'') in the same manner that Alaska is divided into List of boroughs and census areas in Alaska, boroughs, an ...
: The usage of the term ''
parish A parish is a territorial entity in many Christian Christians () are people who follow or adhere to Christianity, a monotheistic Abrahamic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus in Christianity, Jesus Christ. The words ''Christ ( ...
'' for a territorial entity or local government in Louisiana dates back to both the
Spanish colonial Spanish Colonial architecture represents Spanish colonization of the Americas, Spanish colonial influence on New World and East Indies' cities and towns, and it is still being seen in the architecture as well as in the Urban planning, city plannin ...
and French colonial periods when the land was dominated by the
Catholic Church The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest Christian church, with 1.3 billion baptised Baptism (from the Greek language, Greek noun βάπτισμα ''báptisma'') is a Christians, Christian ...

Catholic Church
.
New Orleans New Orleans (,New Orleans
is a consolidated city-parish. * Connecticut Councils of Governments: County governments were abolished in Connecticut in 1960. Regional Councils of Governments (COG's) have been developed as a means of cooperation and coordination between municipalities. Application for the COG's to be considered county equivalents has been made to the
United States Census Bureau The United States Census Bureau (USCB), officially the Bureau of the Census, is a principal agency of the U.S. Federal Statistical System, responsible for producing data about the American American(s) may refer to: * American, something of, ...
. * Independent cities: These are cities that legally belong to no county. They differ from consolidated city-counties in that in the case of a consolidated city-county, the county at least nominally exists, whereas in the case of an independent city, no county even nominally exists. , there are 41 such cities in the United States, including
Baltimore, Maryland Baltimore ( , locally: ) is the List of municipalities in Maryland, most populous city in the U.S. state of Maryland, as well as List of United States cities by population, the 30th most populous city in the United States, with an estimated po ...

Baltimore, Maryland
;
Carson City, Nevada Carson City, officially the Consolidated Municipality of Carson City, is an Independent city (United States), independent city and the capital of the U.S. state of Nevada, named after the mountain man Kit Carson. As of the 2010 United States Cen ...
;
St. Louis, Missouri St. Louis () is the second-largest city in Missouri Missouri is a U.S. state, state in the Midwestern United States, Midwestern region of the United States. With more than six million residents, it is the List of U.S. states and territor ...

St. Louis, Missouri
; and all 38 cities in
Virginia Virginia (), officially the Commonwealth of Virginia, is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), '' ...

Virginia
, where any area incorporated as a city is outside of the county jurisdiction. *
Washington, D.C. ) , image_skyline = , image_caption = Clockwise from top left: the Washington Monument The Washington Monument is an obelisk within the National Mall The National Mall is a Landscape architecture, landscaped ...
, outside the jurisdiction of any state, has a special status. The City of Washington comprises the entirety of the
District of Columbia ) , image_skyline = , image_caption = Clockwise from top left: the Washington Monument The Washington Monument is an obelisk within the National Mall The National Mall is a Landscape architecture, landscape ...

District of Columbia
, which, in accordance with Article 1, Section 8 of the
U.S. Constitution The Constitution of the United States is the Supremacy Clause, supreme law of the United States, United States of America. This founding document, originally comprising seven articles, delineates the national frame of government. Its first t ...
, is under the jurisdiction of the
U.S. Congress The United States Congress or U.S. Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States and consists of the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Wa ...

U.S. Congress
. When founded in 1801, the District consisted of two counties and three cities. In 1846, Alexandria County (which now forms
Arlington County Arlington County is a county A county is a geographical region of a country used for administrative or other purposesChambers Dictionary, L. Brookes (ed.), 2005, Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd, Edinburgh in certain modern nations. The ter ...
and a portion of the independent city of
Alexandria Alexandria ( or ; ar, الإسكندرية ; arz, اسكندرية ; Coptic language, Coptic: Rakodī; el, Αλεξάνδρεια ''Alexandria'') is the List of cities and towns in Egypt, third-largest city in Egypt after Cairo and Giza, ...

Alexandria
)—including the then City of Alexandria—was given back to Virginia. In 1871, the three remaining entities—the City of Washington, City of Georgetown, and
Washington County Washington County is the name of 30 counties and one parish in the United States of America, all named after George Washington, revolutionary war general and first President of the United States. It is the most common county name in the United Stat ...
(which was coterminous with the District)—were merged into a consolidated government of District of Columbia by an act of Congress. Georgetown was abolished as a city by another act in 1895. Consolidated city-counties are not designated county equivalents for administrative purposes; since both the city and the county at least nominally exist, they are properly classified as counties in their own right. The
city limit City limits or city boundaries refer to the defined boundary or border of a city A city is a large human settlement.Goodall, B. (1987) ''The Penguin Dictionary of Human Geography''. London: Penguin.Kuper, A. and Kuper, J., eds (1996) ''The So ...
or jurisdiction is synonymous with the county line as the two administrative entities become a non-dichotomous single entity. For this reason, a consolidated city county is officially remarked as ''name of city - name of county'' (i.e., Augusta–Richmond County in Georgia). The same is true of the
boroughs of New York City New York City New York, often called New York City to distinguish it from , or NYC for short, is the in the United States. With a 2020 population of 8,804,190 distributed over , New York City is also the major city in the United States ...
, each of which is coextensive with a county of New York State.


Territories

There are technically no counties in U.S. territories.
American Samoa American Samoa ( sm, Amerika Sāmoa, ; also ' or ') is an unincorporated territory of the United States Under United States The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US), or America, is a countr ...

American Samoa
has its own counties, but the U.S. Census Bureau does not count them as counties (instead, the U.S. Census Bureau counts American Samoa's as county equivalents). American Samoa's counties are treated as minor civil divisions. Most territories are directly divided into municipalities or similar units, which are treated as equivalent of counties for statistical purposes:http://www.statoids.com/uum.html ''Territories of United States Minor Outlying Islands.'' Statoids.com. Retrieved July 6, 2018. * The 78
municipalities of Puerto Rico A municipality is usually a single administrative division Administrative division, administrative unitArticle 3(1). , country subdivision, administrative region, subnational entity, first-level subdivision, as well as many similar terms, ...
* The 3 main islands of the
United States Virgin Islands The United States Virgin Islands, officially the Virgin Islands of the United States, are a group of Caribbean The Caribbean (, ; es, Caribe; french: Caraïbes; ht, Karayib; also gcf, label=Antillean Creole Antillean Creole (Antillean ...
* The 19
Villages of Guam The United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country in . It consists of 50 , a , five major , 326 , and some . At , it is the world's . The United St ...
* The 4 municipalities of the Northern Mariana Islands * The 3 districts of American Samoa * The 2 atolls of American Samoa * The 9 islands of the
U.S. Minor Outlying Islands United States Minor Outlying Islands is a statistical designation defined by the International Organization for Standardization The International Organization for Standardization (ISO ) is an international standard-setting body composed of ...
The U.S. Census Bureau counts all of
Guam Guam (; ch, Guåhan ) is an organized, unincorporated territory of the United States in the Micronesia Micronesia (, ; from grc, μικρός ''mikrós'' "small" and ''nêsos'' "island") is a subregion of Oceania, consisting of thousa ...

Guam
as one county equivalent (with the FIPS code 66010),https://www2.census.gov/geo/pdfs/reference/GARM/Ch4GARM.pdf ''States, Counties, and Statistically Equivalent Entities (Chapter 4)''. Census.gov. Retrieved July 6, 2018. while the
USGS The United States Geological Survey, abbreviated USGS and formerly simply known as the Geological Survey, is a scientific agency Agency may refer to: * a governmental or other institution Institutions, according to Samuel P. Huntington, a ...
counts Guam's election districts (villages) as county equivalents. The U.S. Census Bureau counts the 3 main islands in the
U.S. Virgin Islands The United States Virgin Islands, officially the Virgin Islands of the United States,Also called the ''American Virgin Islands'' are a group of Caribbean islands and an unincorporated and organized territory of the United States The U ...

U.S. Virgin Islands
as county equivalents, while the USGS counts the districts of the U.S. Virgin Islands (of which there are 2) as county equivalents.


Names and etymologies

Common sources of county names are names of people, geographic features, places in other states or countries, and animals. Quite a few counties bear names of
Native American Native Americans may refer to: Ethnic groups * Indigenous peoples of the Americas, the pre-Columbian peoples of North and South America and their descendants * Native Americans in the United States * Indigenous peoples in Canada, the indigenous p ...
, French, or Spanish origin. Counties are most often named for people, often political figures or early settlers, with over 2,100 of the 3,144 total so named. The most common county name, with 31, is
Washington County Washington County is the name of 30 counties and one parish in the United States of America, all named after George Washington, revolutionary war general and first President of the United States. It is the most common county name in the United Stat ...
, for America's first president, George Washington. Up until 1871, there was a Washington County, District of Columbia, Washington County within the
District of Columbia ) , image_skyline = , image_caption = Clockwise from top left: the Washington Monument The Washington Monument is an obelisk within the National Mall The National Mall is a Landscape architecture, landscape ...

District of Columbia
, but it was dissolved by the District of Columbia Organic Act of 1871, District of Columbia Organic Act. Jefferson County (disambiguation), Jefferson County, for Thomas Jefferson, is next with 26. The most recent president to have Harding County, New Mexico, a county named for him was Warren G. Harding, reflecting the slowing rate of county creation since New Mexico and Arizona became states in 1912. The most common names for counties not named after a president are Franklin County (disambiguation), Franklin (25), Clay County (disambiguation), Clay (18), and Montgomery County (disambiguation), Montgomery (18). After people, the next most common source of county names are geographic features and locations, with some counties even being named after counties in other states, or for places in countries such as the United Kingdom. The most common geographic county name is Lake County (disambiguation), Lake. Words from Native American languages, as well as the names of Native American leaders and tribes, lend their names to many counties. Quite a few counties bear names of French or Spanish origin, such as Marquette County (disambiguation), Marquette County being named after French missionary Jacques Marquette, Father Jacques Marquette. The county's equivalent in the state of Louisiana, the Parish (administrative division), parish (Fr. ''paroisse civile'' and Sp. ''parroquia'') took its name during the state's French and Spanish colonial periods. Before the Louisiana Purchase and granting of statehood, government was often administered in towns where major church
parish A parish is a territorial entity in many Christian Christians () are people who follow or adhere to Christianity, a monotheistic Abrahamic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus in Christianity, Jesus Christ. The words ''Christ ( ...
es were located. Of the original 19 civil parishes of Louisiana that date from statehood in 1807, nine were named after the Roman Catholic parishes from which they were governed.


County government


Organization

The structure and powers of a county government may be defined by the general law of the state or by a charter specific to that county. States may allow only general-law counties, only charter counties, or both. Generally, general-law local governments have less autonomy than chartered local governments. Counties are usually governed by an elected body, variously called the
county commission A county commission (or a board of county commissioners) is a group of elected officials collectively charged with administering the county A county is a geographical region of a country used for administrative or other purposesChambers Dict ...
, board of supervisors, commissioners' court, county council, board of chosen freeholders, county court, or Administrative divisions of New York#County, county Legislature. In cases in which a
consolidated city-county In United States local government, a consolidated city-county is formed when one or more cities A city is a large human settlement In geography, statistics and archaeology, a settlement, locality or populated place is a community in whi ...
or Independent city (United States), independent city exists, a City Council usually governs city/county or city affairs. In some counties, day-to-day operations are overseen by an elected county executive or by a chief administrative officer or county administrator who reports to the board, the mayor, or both. In many states, the board in charge of a county holds powers that transcend all three traditional branches of government. It has the legislative power to enact ordinances for the county; it has the executive power to oversee the executive operations of county government; and it has quasi-judicial power with regard to certain limited matters (such as hearing appeals from the planning commission if one exists). In many states, several important officials are elected separately from the board of commissioners or supervisors and cannot be fired by the board. These positions may include Clerk (municipal official), county clerk, county treasurer, county surrogate, Sheriffs in the United States, sheriff, and others. District attorneys or state attorneys are usually state-level as opposed to county-level officials, but in many states, counties and state judicial districts have coterminous boundaries. The site of a county's administration, and often the county courthouse, is generally called the county seat ("parish seat" in Louisiana, "borough seat" in Alaska, or "shire town" in several New England counties). The county seat usually resides in a municipality. However, some counties may have multiple seats or no seat. In some counties with no incorporated municipalities, a large settlement may serve as the county seat.


Scope of power

The power of county governments varies widely from state to state, as does the relationship between counties and incorporated cities. The powers of counties arise from state law and vary widely. In
Connecticut Connecticut () is the southernmost state in the New England region of the United States. As of the 2010 United States census, 2010 Census, it has the highest per-capita income, second-highest level of List of U.S. states and territories by H ...
and
Rhode Island Rhode Island (, like ''road''), officially the State of Rhode Island, is a state in the New England New England is a region comprising six states in the Northeastern United States The Northeastern United States (also referred to as ...
, counties are geographic entities, but not governmental jurisdictions. At the other extreme, List of counties in Maryland, Maryland counties and the county equivalent Baltimore, City of Baltimore handle almost all services, including public education, although the state retains an active oversight authority with many of these services. In most Midwestern and Northeastern states, counties are further subdivided into
townships A township is a kind of human settlement In geography, statistics and archaeology, a settlement, locality or populated place is a community in which people live. The complexity of a settlement can range from a small number of dwellings g ...
or New England town, towns, which sometimes exercise local powers or administration. Throughout the United States, counties may contain other independent, self-governing municipality, municipalities.


Minimal scope

In New England, counties function at most as judicial court districts and Sheriffs in the United States, sheriff's departments (presently, in Connecticut only as judicial court districts—and in Rhode Island, they have lost both those functions and most others but they are still used by the
United States Census Bureau The United States Census Bureau (USCB), officially the Bureau of the Census, is a principal agency of the U.S. Federal Statistical System, responsible for producing data about the American American(s) may refer to: * American, something of, ...
and some other federal agencies for some federal functions ), and most of the governmental authority below the state level is in the hands of New England town, towns and cities. In several of Maine's sparsely populated counties, small towns rely on the county for law enforcement, and in New Hampshire several social programs are administered at the state level. In Connecticut, Rhode Island, and parts of Massachusetts, counties are now only geographic designations, and they do not have any governmental powers. All government is either done at the state level or at the municipal level. In Connecticut and parts of Massachusetts, regional councils have been established to partially fill the void left behind by the abolished county governments.Unlike in Massachusetts, Connecticut's regional councils do not conform to the old county lines, but rather, they are composed of towns that share the same geographic region and have similar demographics. The regional councils' authority is limited compared with a county government—they have authority only over infrastructure and land use planning, distribution of state and federal funds for infrastructure projects, emergency preparedness, and limited law enforcement duties.


Moderate scope

In the Mid-Atlantic states, Mid-Atlantic and Midwest, counties typically provide, at a minimum, courts, public utility, public utilities, libraries, hospitals, public health services, parks, roads, law enforcement, and jails. There is usually a county registrar, recorder, or clerk (the exact title varies) who collects Vital statistics (government records), vital statistics, holds elections (sometimes in coordination with a separate elections office or commission), and prepares or processes certificates of births, deaths, marriages, and dissolutions (divorce decrees). The county recorder normally maintains the official record of all real estate transactions. Other key county officials include the coroner/medical examiner, treasurer, assessor (property), assessor, auditor, comptroller, and district attorney. In most states, the Sheriffs in the United States, county sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer in the county. However, except in major emergencies where clear chains of command are essential, the county sheriff normally does not directly control the police departments of city governments, but merely cooperates with them (e.g., under Mutual aid (emergency services), mutual aid pacts). Thus, the most common interaction between county and city law enforcement personnel is when city police officers deliver suspects to sheriff's deputies for detention or incarceration in the county jail. In most states, the State court (United States), state courts and local law enforcement are organized and implemented along county boundaries, but nearly all of the substantive and procedural law adjudicated in state trial courts originates from the state legislature and state appellate courts. In other words, most criminal defendants are prosecuted for violations of state law, not local ordinances, and if they, the district attorney, or police seek reforms to the criminal justice system, they will usually have to direct their efforts towards the state legislature rather than the county (which merely implements state law). A typical criminal defendant will be arraigned and subsequently indicted or held over for trial before a trial court in and for a particular county where the crime occurred, kept in the county jail (if he is not granted bail or cannot make bail), prosecuted by the county's district attorney, and tried before a jury selected from that county. But long-term incarceration is rarely a county responsibility, execution of Capital punishment in the United States, capital punishment is never a county responsibility, and the state's responses to prisoners' appeals are the responsibility of the state attorney general, who has to defend before the state appellate courts the prosecutions conducted by locally elected district attorneys in the name of the state. Furthermore, county-level trial court judges are officers of the judicial branch of the state government rather than county governments. In many states, the county controls all unincorporated area, unincorporated lands within its boundaries. In states with a township tier, unincorporated land is controlled by the townships. Residents of unincorporated land who are dissatisfied with county-level or township-level resource allocation decisions can attempt to vote to incorporate as a city, town, or village (United States), village. A few counties directly provide public transportation themselves, usually in the form of a simple bus system. However, in most counties, public transportation is provided by one of the following: a Special district (United States), special district that is coterminous with the county (but exists separately from the county government), a multi-county regional transit authority, or a state agency.


Broad scope

In Western United States, western and Southern United States, southern states, more populated counties provide many facilities, such as airports, convention centers, museums, Community centre, recreation centers, beaches, harbors, zoos, clinics, law library, law libraries, and public housing. They provide services such as child and family services, elder services, mental health services, welfare services, veterans assistance services, Animal control officer, animal control, probation supervision, historic preservation, food safety regulation, and environmental health services. They have many additional officials like public defenders, arts commissioners, human rights commissioners, and planning commissioners. There may be a county fire department and a county police department – as distinguished from fire and police departments operated by individual cities, special districts, or the state government. For example, Gwinnett County, Georgia, and its county seat, the city of Lawrenceville, Georgia, Lawrenceville, each have their own police departments. (A separate county sheriff's department is responsible for security of the county courts and administration of the county jail.) In several southern states, Public school (government funded), public school systems are organized and administered at the county level.


Statistics

, there were 3,007 counties, List of parishes in Louisiana, 64 parishes, List of boroughs and census areas in Alaska, 19 organized boroughs, 11 census areas, Independent city (United States), 41 independent cities, and the
District of Columbia ) , image_skyline = , image_caption = Clockwise from top left: the Washington Monument The Washington Monument is an obelisk within the National Mall The National Mall is a Landscape architecture, landscape ...

District of Columbia
for a total of 3,143 counties and county equivalents in the 50 states and District of Columbia. There are an additional 100 county equivalents in the territories of the United States. The average number of counties per state is 62, with a range from the List of counties in Delaware, three counties of Delaware to the List of counties in Texas, 254 counties of Texas. Southern United States, Southern and Midwestern United States, Midwestern states generally tend to have more counties than Western United States, Western or Northeastern United States, Northeastern states, as many Northeastern states are not large enough in area to warrant a large number of counties, and many Western states were sparsely populated when counties were created. The List of counties in Rhode Island, five counties of Rhode Island, the List of counties in Connecticut, eight counties of Connecticut, and List of counties in Massachusetts, eight of the 14 counties of
Massachusetts Massachusetts (, ), officially the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, is the most populous state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * ...

Massachusetts
no longer have functional county governments, but continue to exist as legal and census entities.


Population

The average U.S. county population was 104,435 in 2019, while the median county, which is Nicholas County, West Virginia, had a population of 25,965 in 2019. The most populous county is
Los Angeles County, California Los Angeles County, officially the County of Los Angeles, and sometimes abbreviated as L.A. County, is the most populous county in the United States and in the U.S. state of California, with more than ten million inhabitants as of the 2020 Uni ...
, with 10,039,107 residents in 2019. This number is greater than the populations of 41 U.S. states. It also makes the population of Los Angeles County 17.4 times greater than that of the least populous state, Wyoming. The second most populous county is
Cook County, Illinois Cook County is the most populous county A county is a geographical region of a country used for administrative or other purposesChambers Dictionary The ''Chambers Dictionary'' (''TCD'') was first published by William Chambers (publish ...
, with a population of 5,150,233. Cook County's population is larger than that of 28 individual List of U.S. states and territories by population, U.S. states and the combined populations of the six smallest states. The least populous county is Kalawao County, Hawaii, with 86 residents in 2019. Eight county equivalents in the Territories of the United States, U.S. territories have no human population: Rose Atoll, Northern Islands Municipality, Baker Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, and Navassa Island. The remaining three islands in the
U.S. Minor Outlying Islands United States Minor Outlying Islands is a statistical designation defined by the International Organization for Standardization The International Organization for Standardization (ISO ) is an international standard-setting body composed of ...
(Midway Atoll, Palmyra Atoll and Wake Island) have small non-permanent human populations. The county equivalent with the smallest non-zero population counted in the census is Swains Island, Swains Island, American Samoa (17 people), although since 2008 this population has not been permanent either.Atoll envisioned as a model for sustainability
Star Advertiser, 20 September 2014.
The most densely populated county or county equivalent is Manhattan, New York County, New York (coextensive with the
New York City New York, often called New York City to distinguish it from New York State New York is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of ...

New York City
Manhattan, Borough of Manhattan), with 72,033 persons per square mile (27,812/km2) in 2015. The Yukon–Koyukuk Census Area, Alaska, is both the most extensive and the least densely populated county or county equivalent with 0.0380 persons per square mile (0.0147/km2) in 2015. In the 50 states (plus District of Columbia), a total of 981 counties have a population over 50,000; 592 counties have a population over 100,000; 137 counties have a population over 500,000; 45 counties have a population over 1,000,000; and 14 counties have a population over 2,000,000. At the other extreme, 35 counties have a population under 1,000; 307 counties have a population under 5,000; 709 counties have a population under 10,000; and 1,492 counties have a population between 10,000 and 50,000.


Area

At the 2000 U.S. Census, the median land area of U.S. counties was , which is two-thirds of the median land area of a Ceremonial counties of England, ceremonial county of England, and a little more than a quarter of the median land area of a French ''département''. Counties in the western United States typically have a much larger land area than those in the eastern United States. For example, the median land area of counties in Georgia (U.S. state), Georgia is , whereas in Utah it is . The most extensive county or county equivalent is the Yukon–Koyukuk Census Area, Alaska, with a land area of 145,505 square miles (376,856 km2). All nine of the most extensive county equivalents are in Alaska. The most extensive county is San Bernardino County, California, with a land area of 20,057 square miles (51,947 km2). The least extensive county is Kalawao County, Hawaii, with a land area of 11.991 square miles (31.058 km2). The least extensive county equivalent in the 50 states is the independent city (United States), independent city of Falls Church, Virginia, with a land area of 1.999 square miles (5.177 km2). If U.S. territories are included, the least extensive county equivalent is Kingman Reef, with a land area of 0.01 square miles (0.03 km2).https://www.britannica.com/place/Kingman-Reef ''Kingman Reef''. Britannica.com. Retrieved July 7, 2018.


Geographic relationships between cities and counties

In some states, a municipality may be in only one county and may not annex territory in adjacent counties, but in the majority of states, the state constitution or state law allows municipalities to extend across county boundaries. At least 32 states include List of U.S. cities in multiple counties, municipalities in multiple counties. Dallas and Oklahoma City, for example, both contain portions of five counties.
New York City New York, often called New York City to distinguish it from New York State New York is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of ...

New York City
is an unusual case because it encompasses multiple entire counties in one city. Each of those counties is coextensive with one of the five Borough (New York City), boroughs of the city: Manhattan (New York County), The Bronx (Bronx County), Queens (Queens County), Brooklyn (Kings County), and Staten Island (Richmond County).


See also

*Consolidated city-county, City-County *Lists of counties in the United States **List of United States counties and county equivalents **Index of U.S. counties **List of former United States counties **List of the most common U.S. county names * Flags of counties of the United States * Federal Information Processing Standard state code, List of FIPS codes * Census geographic units of Canada * Municipalities of Mexico


Notes


References


External links


Geographic Areas Reference Manual
by the
United States Census Bureau The United States Census Bureau (USCB), officially the Bureau of the Census, is a principal agency of the U.S. Federal Statistical System, responsible for producing data about the American American(s) may refer to: * American, something of, ...

National Association of Counties

Atlas of Historical County Boundaries


{{Articles on second-level administrative divisions of North American countries Counties of the United States, Administrative divisions in North America, United States 2 Second-level administrative divisions by country, Counties, United States Political divisions of the United States