U.S. Profile - The 50 States



Fifty (50) states and the District of Columbia make up the United States. The so-called lower 48 states (all but Alaska and Hawaii) sprawl across 4,500 kilometers and four time zones. A car trip from coast to coast typically takes a minimum of five days - and that's with almost no stops to look around. It is not unusual for the gap between the warmest and coldest high temperatures on a given day in the United States to reach 70 degrees Fahrenheit (about 40 degrees Celsius).

The United States owes much of its national character - and its wealth - to its good fortune in having such a large and varied landmass to inhabit and cultivate. Yet the country still exhibits marks of regional identity, and one way Americans cope with the size of their country is to think of themselves as linked geographically by certain traits, such as New England self-reliance, southern hospitality, midwestern wholesomeness, western mellowness. The United States is often described as having six main regions:

  • New England, made up of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.
  • The Middle Atlantic, comprising New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland.
  • The South, which runs from Virginia south to Florida and west as far as central Texas. This region also includes West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, and parts of Missouri and Oklahoma.
  • The Midwest, a broad collection of states sweeping westward from Ohio to Nebraska and including Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, parts of Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, and eastern Colorado.
  • The Southwest, made up of western Texas, portions of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and the southern interior part of California.
  • The West, comprising Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Utah, California, Nevada, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and Hawaii. The last two states to join the Union were Alaska (49th) and Hawaii (50th). Both joined in 1959.

Washington D.C. is a federal district under the authority of Congress. Local government is run by a mayor and 13 member city council. Washington DC is represented in Congress by an elected, nonvoting Delegate to the House of Representatives and residents have been able to vote in Presidential elections since 1961.

Dependent areas: American Samoa, Baker Island, Guam, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, Midway Islands, Navassa Island, Northern Mariana Islands, Palmyra Atoll, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Wake Island

note: from July 18, 1947 until Oct. 1, 1994, the U.S. administered the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands; it entered into a political relationship with all four political units: the Northern Mariana Islands is a commonwealth in political union with the US (effective Nov. 3, 1986); the Republic of the Marshall Islands signed a Compact of Free Association with the US (effective Oct 21, 1986); the Federated States of Micronesia signed a Compact of Free Association with the US (effective Nov. 3, 1986); Palau concluded a Compact of Free Association with the US (effective Oct. 1, 1994)

-- Abridged from the U.S. State Department IIP Publication, "Portrait of the USA"
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[Last Updated: 12/9/2010]
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