County (United States)
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In the United States, a county is an administrative or political subdivision of a state that consists of a geographic region with specific boundaries and usually some level of governmental authority. The term "county" is used in 48 states, while Louisiana and Alaska have functionally equivalent subdivisions called parishes and boroughs, respectively. The specific governmental powers of counties vary widely between the states, with many providing some level of services to civil townships, municipalities, and unincorporated areas. Certain municipalities are in multiple counties; New York City is uniquely partitioned into five counties, referred to at the city government level as boroughs. Some municipalities have consolidated with their county government to form consolidated city-counties, or have been legally separated from counties altogether to form independent cities. Conversely, those counties in Connecticut, Rhode Island, eight of Massachusetts's 14 counties, and Alaska's Unorganized Borough have no government power, existing only as geographic distinctions.
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; Cook County, Illinois; Harris County, Texas; Maricopa County, Arizona; and San Diego County, California.
The United States Census Bureau 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 are equivalent to counties for administrative purposes. Alaska's Unorganized Borough is further divided into 11 census areas that are statistically equivalent to counties. In 2024, the U.S. Census Bureau will begin to also use Connecticut's Councils of Governments for county-equivalent statistical purposes.
Territories of the United States do not have counties; instead, the United States Census Bureau also divides them into county equivalents. The U.S. Census Bureau counts American Samoa's districts and atolls as county equivalents. American Samoa locally has places called "counties", but these entities are considered to be "minor civil divisions" (not true counties) by the U.S. Census Bureau.
As of 2020[update], there are currently 3,143 counties and county equivalents in the 50 states and the 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.[b] The county with the largest population, Los Angeles County (10,039,107), and the county with the largest land area, San Bernardino County, border each other in Southern California (however, eleven boroughs in Alaska are larger in area than San Bernardino County).
The origin of the American counties are in the counties of England. English (after 1707 British) colonists brought to their colonies in North America a political subdivision that they already used in the British metropole: the counties. Counties were among the earliest units of local government established in the Thirteen Colonies that would become the United States. Virginia created the first counties in order to ease the administrative workload in Jamestown. The House of Burgesses 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, Warrosquyoake, Accomac, Elizabeth City, and Warwick River. America's oldest intact county court records can be found at Eastville, Virginia, in Northampton (originally Accomac) County, dating to 1632. Maryland established its first county, St. Mary's, in 1637, and Massachusetts followed in 1643. Pennsylvania and New York 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.
When independence came, the framers of the Constitution 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 that dated back to both the Spanish colonial and French colonial periods when the land was dominated by the Catholic Church. In the twentieth century, the role of local governments strengthened and counties began providing more services, acquiring home rule and county commissions to pass local ordinances pertaining to their unincorporated areas. In 1955, delegates to the Alaska Constitutional Convention 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, 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, established in 2001 as a consolidated city-county, previously part of four counties. The newest county equivalents are the Alaskan census areas of Chugach and Copper River, both established in 2019, and the Alaskan boroughs of Petersburg established in 2013, Wrangell established in 2008, and Skagway established in 2007.
A consolidated city-county is simultaneously a city, which is a municipality (municipal corporation), and a county, which is an administrative division of a state, having the powers and responsibilities of both types of entities. The city limit 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, each of which is coextensive with a county of New York State. For those entities in which the city uses the same name as the county, city and county of name may be used (i.e., City and County of Denver in Colorado).
Similarly, some of 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.
There are 40 consolidated city-counties in the U.S., including Augusta–Richmond County; the City and County of Denver, Colorado; the City and County of Honolulu, Hawaii; Indianapolis–Marion County, Indiana; Jacksonville–Duval County, Florida; Louisville–Jefferson County, Kentucky; Lexington–Fayette County, Kentucky; Kansas City–Wyandotte County, Kansas; Nashville–Davidson County, Tennessee; New Orleans–Orleans Parish, Louisiana; the City and County of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and the City and County of San Francisco, California.
A consolidated city-county may still contain independent municipalities maintaining some governmental powers that did not merge with the rest of the county. For example, the government of Jacksonville–Duval County, Florida, still provides county-level services to the four independent municipalities within its borders: Atlantic Beach, Florida, Baldwin, Florida, Jacksonville Beach, Florida, and Neptune Beach, Florida.
- Alaska boroughs: the state adopted the term "borough" instead of "county" to reflect Alaska's system with different classes of boroughs varying in governmental powers.
- 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 and Germany combined, is officially referred to by the Alaska state government as the Unorganized Borough 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.[c] The United States Census Bureau, 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.[d]
- Louisiana parishes: The usage of the term "parish" for a territorial entity or local government in Louisiana dates back to both the Spanish colonial and French colonial periods when the land was dominated by the Catholic Church. New Orleans is a consolidated city-parish.
- 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; Carson City, Nevada; St. Louis, Missouri; and all 38 cities in Virginia, where any area incorporated as a city is outside of the county jurisdiction.
- Washington, D.C., outside the jurisdiction of any state, has a special status. The City of Washington comprises the entirety of the District of Columbia, which, in accordance with Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, is under the jurisdiction of the 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 and a portion of the independent city of 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 (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.
- Connecticut councils of governments (beginning in 2024): County governments were abolished in Connecticut in 1960. Regional councils of governments (COG's) have since been developed as a means of cooperation and coordination between municipalities. Application for the COG's to be considered county equivalents for statistical purposes was made to the Census Bureau in 2019, approved in 2022, and will be fully implemented by 2024.
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.
There are technically no counties in U.S. territories. 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 three districts and two atolls 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:
- The 78 municipalities of Puerto Rico
- The 3 main islands of the United States Virgin Islands
- The 19 Villages of Guam
- 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
The U.S. Census Bureau counts all of Guam as one county equivalent (with the FIPS code 66010), while the USGS 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 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, 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, for America's first president, George Washington. Up until 1871, there was a Washington County within the District of Columbia, but it was dissolved by the District of Columbia Organic Act. Jefferson County, for Thomas Jefferson, is next with 26. The most recent president to have 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 (25), Clay (18), and 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. 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 being named after French missionary Father Jacques Marquette.
The county's equivalent in the state of Louisiana, the 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 parishes 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.
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, board of supervisors, commissioners' court, county council, board of chosen freeholders, county court, or county Legislature. In cases in which a consolidated city-county or 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 county clerk, county treasurer, county surrogate, 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 and Rhode Island, counties are geographic entities, but not governmental jurisdictions. At the other extreme, Maryland counties and the county equivalent 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 or towns, which sometimes exercise local powers or administration. Throughout the United States, counties may contain other independent, self-governing municipalities.
In New England, counties function at most as judicial court districts and 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 and some other federal agencies for some federal functions), and most of the governmental authority below the state level is in the hands of 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.[e] 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.
In the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest, counties typically provide, at a minimum, courts, 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, 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, auditor, comptroller, and district attorney.
In most states, the 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 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 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 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 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.
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 that is coterminous with the county (but exists separately from the county government), a multi-county regional transit authority, or a state agency.
In western and southern states, more populated counties provide many facilities, such as airports, convention centers, museums, recreation centers, beaches, harbors, zoos, clinics, 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, 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, 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 systems are organized and administered at the county level.
As of 2016[update], there were 3,007 counties, 64 parishes, 19 organized boroughs, 11 census areas, 41 independent cities,[f] and the 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 three counties of Delaware to the 254 counties of Texas.
Southern and Midwestern states generally tend to have more counties than Western or 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 five counties of Rhode Island, the eight counties of Connecticut, and eight of the 14 counties of Massachusetts no longer have functional county governments, but continue to exist as legal and census entities.
|State, federal district
|2019 population||Land area||Counties||Equivalents||Total||Population||Land area|
|Alabama||4,903,185||50,645 sq mi
|67||—||67||73,182||756 sq mi|
|Alaska[g]||731,545||570,641 sq mi
|—||30||30||24,385||19,677 sq mi|
|Arizona||7,278,717||113,594 sq mi
|15||—||15||485,248||7,573 sq mi|
|Arkansas||3,017,825||52,035 sq mi
|75||—||75||40,238||694 sq mi|
|California||39,512,223||155,779 sq mi
|58||—||58||681,245||2,686 sq mi|
|Colorado||5,758,736||103,642 sq mi
|64||—||64||89,980||1,619 sq mi|
|Connecticut||3,565,287||4,842 sq mi
|8||—||8||445,661||605 sq mi|
|Delaware||973,764||1,949 sq mi
|3||—||3||324,588||650 sq mi|
|District of Columbia[h]||705,749||61 sq mi
|—||1||1||705,749||61 sq mi|
|Florida||21,477,737||53,625 sq mi
|67||—||67||320,563||800 sq mi|
|Georgia||10,617,423||57,513 sq mi
|159||—||159||66,776||362 sq mi|
|Hawaii||1,415,872||6,423 sq mi
|5||—||5||283,174||1,285 sq mi|
|Idaho||1,787,065||82,643 sq mi
|44||—||44||40,615||1,878 sq mi|
|Illinois||12,671,821||55,519 sq mi
|102||—||102||124,234||544 sq mi|
|Indiana||6,732,219||35,826 sq mi
|92||—||92||73,176||389 sq mi|
|Iowa||3,155,070||55,857 sq mi
|99||—||99||31,869||564 sq mi|
|Kansas||2,913,314||81,759 sq mi
|105||—||105||27,746||779 sq mi|
|Kentucky||4,467,673||39,486 sq mi
|120||—||120||37,231||329 sq mi|
|Louisiana[i]||4,648,794||43,204 sq mi
|—||64||64||72,637||675 sq mi|
|Maine||1,344,212||30,843 sq mi
|16||—||16||84,013||1,928 sq mi|
|Maryland[j]||6,045,680||9,707 sq mi
|23||1||24||251,903||404 sq mi|
|Massachusetts||6,949,503||7,800 sq mi
|14||—||14||496,393||557 sq mi|
|Michigan||9,986,857||56,539 sq mi
|83||—||83||120,324||681 sq mi|
|Minnesota||5,639,632||79,627 sq mi
|87||—||87||64,823||915 sq mi|
|Mississippi||2,976,149||46,923 sq mi
|82||—||82||36,295||572 sq mi|
|Missouri[k]||6,137,428||68,742 sq mi
|114||1||115||53,369||598 sq mi|
|Montana||1,068,778||145,546 sq mi
|56||—||56||19,085||2,599 sq mi|
|Nebraska||1,934,408||76,824 sq mi
|93||—||93||20,800||826 sq mi|
|Nevada[l]||3,080,156||109,781 sq mi
|16||1||17||181,186||6,458 sq mi|
|New Hampshire||1,359,711||8,953 sq mi
|10||—||10||135,971||895 sq mi|
|New Jersey||8,882,190||7,354 sq mi
|21||—||21||422,961||350 sq mi|
|New Mexico||2,096,829||121,298 sq mi
|33||—||33||63,540||3,676 sq mi|
|New York||19,453,561||47,126 sq mi
|62||—||62||313,767||760 sq mi|
|North Carolina||10,488,084||48,618 sq mi
|100||—||100||104,881||486 sq mi|
|North Dakota||762,062||69,001 sq mi
|53||—||53||14,379||1,302 sq mi|
|Ohio||11,689,100||40,861 sq mi
|88||—||88||132,831||464 sq mi|
|Oklahoma||3,956,971||68,595 sq mi
|77||—||77||51,389||891 sq mi|
|Oregon||4,217,737||95,988 sq mi
|36||—||36||117,159||2,666 sq mi|
|Pennsylvania||12,801,989||44,743 sq mi
|67||—||67||191,074||668 sq mi|
|Rhode Island||1,059,361||1,034 sq mi
|5||—||5||211,872||207 sq mi|
|South Carolina||5,148,714||30,061 sq mi
|46||—||46||111,929||653 sq mi|
|South Dakota||884,659||75,811 sq mi
|66||—||66||13,404||1,149 sq mi|
|Tennessee||6,833,174||41,235 sq mi
|95||—||95||71,928||434 sq mi|
|Texas||28,995,881||261,232 sq mi
|254||—||254||114,157||1,028 sq mi|
|Utah||3,205,958||82,170 sq mi
|29||—||29||110,550||2,833 sq mi|
|Vermont||623,989||9,217 sq mi
|14||—||14||44,571||658 sq mi|
|Virginia[m]||8,535,519||39,490 sq mi
|95||38||133||64,177||416 sq mi|
|Washington||7,614,893||66,456 sq mi
|39||—||39||195,254||1,704 sq mi|
|West Virginia||1,792,147||24,038 sq mi
|55||—||55||32,584||437 sq mi|
|Wisconsin||5,822,434||54,158 sq mi
|72||—||72||80,867||752 sq mi|
|Wyoming||578,759||97,093 sq mi
|23||—||23||25,163||4,221 sq mi|
(50 states and the District of Columbia)
|328,239,523||3,531,905 sq mi
|3,007||136||3,143||104,435||1,124 sq mi|
|American Samoa[n]||51,504||77 sq mi
|—||5||5||11,104||15 sq mi|
|Guam[o]||162,742||210 sq mi
|—||1||1||162,742||210 sq mi|
|Northern Mariana Islands[p]||52,263||179 sq mi
|—||4||4||13,066||45 sq mi|
|Puerto Rico[q]||3,193,694||3,515 sq mi
|—||78||78||40,945||45 sq mi|
|U.S. Minor Outlying Islands[r][s]||160||13 sq mi
|—||9||9||18||1 sq mi|
|U.S. Virgin Islands[t]||104,901||134 sq mi
|—||3||3||34,967||45 sq mi|
(50 states, the District of Columbia,
|330,744,054||3,535,948 sq mi
|3,007||236||3,243||101,987||1,091 sq mi|
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, with 10,014,009 residents in 2020. 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, with a population of 5,275,541. Cook County's population is larger than that of 28 individual U.S. states and the combined populations of the six smallest states.
The least populous county is Loving County, Texas, with 64 residents in 2020. Eight county equivalents in the 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 (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, American Samoa (17 people), although since 2008 this population has not been permanent either.
The most densely populated county or county equivalent is New York County, New York (coextensive with the New York City 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.
At the 2000 U.S. Census, the median land area of U.S. counties was 622 sq mi (1,610 km2), which is two-thirds of the median land area of a 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 is 343 sq mi (890 km2), whereas in Utah it is 2,427 sq mi (6,290 km2).
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 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).
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 municipalities in multiple counties. Dallas and Oklahoma City, for example, both contain portions of five counties. 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 boroughs of the city: Manhattan (New York County), The Bronx (Bronx County), Queens (Queens County), Brooklyn (Kings County), and Staten Island (Richmond County).
- Index of U.S. counties
- Lists of counties in the United States
- List of FIPS codes
- Census geographic units of Canada
- Municipalities of Mexico
- The 8 county equivalents with zero people are Rose Atoll (American Samoa), Northern Islands Municipality (Northern Mariana Islands), Baker Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef and Navassa Island
- At the time of the most recent 2010 census, 3,143 counties and equivalents were recorded in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, with another 100 county equivalents recorded in the territories (when the nine Minor Outlying Islands are included). Since that time, the independent city of Bedford, Virginia, was dissolved and had its territory added to Bedford County, Virginia. Also, Alaska's Petersburg census area incorporated as Petersburg Borough and Alaska's Valdez–Cordova Census Area split into the Copper River and Chugach census areas. The net result of these changes has been the number changing but staying 3,143.
- The Unorganized Borough, Alaska formed by the Borough Act of 1961 is a legal entity, run by the Alaska state government as an extension of State government. It and the independently incorporated Unified, Home Rule, First Class and Second Class boroughs roughly correspond to parishes in Louisiana and to counties in the other 48 states.
- These 11 statistical areas are used solely by the United States Census Bureau 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.
- 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.
- Prior to July 1, 2016, there were 42 independent cities. At that time, Bedford, Virginia, gave up its city status and became a town within Bedford County.
- The State of Alaska has 19 organized boroughs and one Unorganized Borough divided into 11 census areas.
- The United States Census Bureau and the Office of Management and Budget consider the entire District of Columbia to be a county equivalent.
- The State of Louisiana has 64 parishes instead of counties.
- The State of Maryland has 23 counties and the independent City of Baltimore.
- The State of Missouri has 114 counties and the independent City of St. Louis.
- The State of Nevada has 16 counties and the independent Consolidated Municipality of Carson City.
- The Commonwealth of Virginia has 95 counties and 38 independent cities.
- American Samoa has 15 counties, but these counties are not counted by the U.S. Census Bureau. The Bureau instead counts American Samoa's 3 districts and 2 atolls as county equivalents.
- Guam does not have counties. All of Guam is counted as one county equivalent by the U.S. Census Bureau.
- The Northern Mariana Islands do not have counties. The U.S. Census Bureau counts the 4 municipalities of the Northern Mariana Islands as county equivalents.
- Puerto Rico does not have counties. The U.S. Census Bureau counts Puerto Rico's 78 municipalities as county equivalents.
- The U.S. Minor Outlying Islands do not have counties. The U.S. Census Bureau counts each of the 9 island groups in the U.S. Minor Outlying Islands as county equivalents.
- The Minor Outlying Islands have no permanent residents. All reported population consists of temporary military and scientific habitation.
- The United States Virgin Islands do not have counties. The U.S. Census Bureau counts the 3 main islands (Saint Croix, Saint Thomas and Saint John) as county equivalents.
- "Kingman Reef". Encyclopædia Britannica (Online ed.). Retrieved July 7, 2018.
- "Territories of United States Minor Outlying Islands". Statoids.com. Retrieved July 6, 2018.
- "An Overview of County Government". National Association of Counties. Archived from the original on April 17, 2013. Retrieved April 25, 2013.
- El Nasser, Haya (October 24, 2017). "Big and Small America". The United States Census Bureau. Retrieved December 23, 2020.
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- "States, Counties, and Statistically Equivalent Entities (Chapter 4)" (PDF). Census.gov. Retrieved July 6, 2018.
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- "2010 Census Geographic Entity Tallies by State and Type". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on July 17, 2015.
- "Substantial Changes to Counties and County Equivalent Entities: 1970–Present". United States Census Bureau.
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- Harch, Charles E. (1957). The First Seventeen Years, Virginia, 1607–1624. Jamestown 350th Anniversary Historical. pp. 20, 75–76.
- "Historic Court East Greenville". Northampton County, Virginia.
- Reynolds, Osborne M., Jr. (2009). Local Government Law (3rd ed.). St. Paul: West. p. 19.
- "Learn About What What Counties Do". National Association of Counties. Archived from the original on July 7, 2010. Retrieved November 20, 2015.
- Tabor, B. "Bryansite - Louisiana parishes".
- "Local Government". Alaska Humanities Forum. Retrieved November 4, 2021.
- Rubino, Joe (December 24, 2011). "Broomfield 50th anniversary: Success in first 50 years stemmed from bold actions". Broomfield Enterprise. Retrieved July 13, 2012.
- "Broomfield History". City and County of Broomfield. Archived from the original on March 29, 2012. Retrieved July 13, 2012.
- Bureau, US Census. "Changes to Counties and County Equivalent Entities: 1970-Present". The United States Census Bureau. Retrieved May 21, 2021.
- Viechnicki, Joe (January 3, 2013). "Petersburg Becomes 19th Borough In Alaska". Alaska Public Media.
- "County and equivalent entity". factfinder.census.gov. Archived from the original on March 22, 2020. Retrieved March 12, 2020.
- "Local Government". Alaska Humanities Forum. Retrieved June 25, 2022.
- "Alaska Statutes Title 29 Chapter 03. The Unorganized Borough". Local Government On-Line, Division of Community and Regional Affairs, Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. August 18, 1998. Archived from the original on April 15, 2009. Retrieved July 17, 2008.
- "Local Government in Alaska" (PDF). Local Boundary Commission, Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. February 2001. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 18, 2008. Retrieved July 17, 2008.
- Cities 101 – Consolidations, from National League of Cities
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- Geography, US Census Bureau. "US Census Bureau Geography 2010 FIPS Code Files for Counties and County Equivalent Entities". Census.gov. Retrieved November 2, 2017.
- "Governor Lamont Announces U.S. Census Bureau Approves Proposal for Connecticut's Planning Regions To Become County Equivalents" (Press release). The Office of Governor Ned Lamont. June 6, 2022. Retrieved July 21, 2022.
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- Bright, William (2004). Native American Placenames of the United States. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 080613576X
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There are no county seats in Connecticut. County government was abolished effective October 1, 1960; counties function only as geographical subdivisions.
- "Facts & History". Retrieved January 23, 2010.
Rhode Island has no county government. It is divided into 39 municipalities each having its own form of local government.
- "Direct links to all 24 Maryland Local Education Agencies' web sites". Retrieved January 22, 2011.
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- "Table 358. Land and Water Area of States and Other Entities: 2008". Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2012. United States Census Bureau. May 1, 2008. Archived from the original on July 7, 2013. Retrieved April 30, 2013.
- Revised Constitution of American Samoa Archived June 7, 2020, at the Wayback Machine, American Samoa Bar Association.
- 2.0202 Districts Archived June 7, 2020, at the Wayback Machine, Code Annotated, American Samoa Bar Association.
- 6.0102 Definitions, Code Annotated, American Samoa Bar Association.
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- "Municipalities of Northern Mariana Islands". Statoids.com. Retrieved July 7, 2018.
- "Districts of American Samoa". Statoids.com. Retrieved July 7, 2018.
- "Swains Island". Encyclopædia Britannica (Online ed.). Retrieved July 7, 2018.
- Unlocking the Secrets of Swains Island Archived July 19, 2017, at the Wayback Machine, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, September 2013.
- Swains Island, Charles A. Veley, 27 November 2008.
- Assessment of the Birds of Swains Island, American Samoa, Andrew Titmus, Nicola Arcilla, and Christopher Lepczyk, The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, March 2016.
- Atoll envisioned as a model for sustainability, Star Advertiser, 20 September 2014.