County (United States)

Last updated

Also known as:
Parish (Louisiana)
Borough (Alaska)
Usa counties large.svg
Category Second-level administrative division
Location States, federal district and territories of the United States of America
Found in State
Number3,242 (including 135 county equivalents in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, and the 100 county equivalents in the U.S. territories)
PopulationsGreatest: Los Angeles County, California—10,170,292 (2015)
Least: Kalawao County, Hawaii—89 (2015)
8 entities [lower-alpha 1] (county equivalents)—0 (2018)
Average: 103,554 (2017)
AreasLargest: San Bernardino County, California—20,057 sq mi (51,950 km2)
Yukon–Koyukuk Census Area, Alaska (county equivalent)—145,505 sq mi (376,860 km2)
Smallest: Kalawao County, Hawaii—12 sq mi (31 km2)
Falls Church, Virginia (county equivalent)—2 sq mi (5.2 km2)
Smallest (including territories): Kingman Reef (county equivalent)—0.01 sq mi (0.026 km2) [1] [2]
Average: 1,208 sq mi (3,130 km2)

County commission, Board of Commissioners, Board of Supervisors (AZ, CA, IA, MS, VA, WI) County council (WA), Commissioners' Court (TX), Board of chosen freeholders (NJ), Fiscal Court (KY), Police Jury (LA)


County executive, County manager, Sole commissioner(GA), County mayor, County administrator, County Judge
Subdivisions Township, City, Hundred

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. [3] The term "county" is used in 48 U.S. states, while Louisiana and Alaska have functionally equivalent subdivisions called parishes and boroughs, respectively. [3]

Most counties have subdivisions which may include townships, municipalities and unincorporated areas. Others have no further divisions, or may serve as a consolidated city-county. Some municipalities are in multiple counties; New York City is uniquely partitioned into five counties, referred to at the city government level as boroughs.

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; the District of Columbia; and the independent cities of the states of Virginia, Maryland, Missouri, and Nevada are equivalent to counties for administrative purposes. Alaska's Unorganized Borough is divided into 10 census areas that are statistically equivalent to counties. As of 2018, there are currently 3,142 counties and county-equivalents in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. [4] If the 100 county equivalents in the U.S. territories are counted, then the total is 3,242 counties and county-equivalents in the United States. [5] [6] [7] [8] [lower-alpha 2]

The number of counties per state ranges from the three counties of Delaware to the 254 counties of Texas.

The specific governmental powers of counties vary widely between the states. Counties have significant functions in all states except Rhode Island and Connecticut, where county governments have been abolished but the entities remain for administrative or statistical purposes. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has removed most government functions from eight of its 14 counties.

The county with the largest population, Los Angeles County (10,170,292), [9] and the county with the largest land area, San Bernardino County, border each other in Southern California (however, four boroughs in Alaska are larger in area than San Bernardino).

Territories of the United States do not have counties; [lower-alpha 3] instead, the United States Census Bureau divides them into county equivalents. The U.S. Census Bureau counts American Samoa's districts and atolls as county-equivalents. [7] [8] 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. [8]


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. [11] America's oldest intact county court records can be found at Eastville, Virginia, in Northampton (originally Accomac) County, dating to 1632. [12] 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 state government to county governments and thereby established a pattern for most of the United States, although counties remained relatively weak in New England. [13]

When independence came, "the framers of the Constitution did not provide for local governments. Rather, they left the matter to the states. Subsequently, early state constitutions generally conceptualized county government as an arm of the state." 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. [14]

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 the state constitution.

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. [15] [16] The newest county-equivalents are the Alaskan boroughs of Skagway established in 2007, Wrangell established in 2008, and Petersburg established in 2013. [17]

County variations

Consolidated city-counties

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. There are 40 consolidated city-counties in the U.S., [3] including Augusta, Georgia; Denver, Colorado; Honolulu, Hawaii; Indianapolis, Indiana; Jacksonville, Florida; Louisville, Kentucky; Lexington, Kentucky; Kansas City, Kansas, Nashville, Tennessee; New Orleans, Louisiana; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and San Francisco, California.

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.

County equivalents

The term county equivalents is used by the United States Census Bureau to describe divisions that are comparable to counties but called by different names: [18]

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 same is true of the boroughs of New York City, each of which is coextensive with a county of New York State.


There are no counties technically 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). [7] [8] American Samoa's counties are treated as minor civil divisions. [8] Most territories are directly divided into municipalities or similar units, which are treated as equivalent of counties for statistical purposes: [7] [2] [8] [25] [26]

The U.S. Census Bureau counts all of Guam as one county-equivalent (with the FIPS code 66010), [7] [8] while the USGS counts Guam's election districts (villages) as county-equivalents. [27] [28] 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. [7] [27]

County names

Common sources of county names are names of people, geographic features, places in other states or countries, Native American tribes, and animals. Quite a few counties bear names of French or Spanish origin. [29]

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. Native American tribes and animals lend their names to some counties. Quite a few counties bear names of French or Spanish origin, including Marquette County being named after French missionary Father Jacques Marquette. [29]

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.

County government


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. [30]

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. [31] In Connecticut and Rhode Island, [32] [33] 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. [34]

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.

Minimal scope

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 all others), 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. [lower-alpha 6] 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 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-purpose 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 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, there were 3,007 counties, 64 parishes, 19 organized boroughs, 10 census areas, 41 independent cities, [lower-alpha 7] and the District of Columbia for a total of 3,142 counties and county-equivalents in the 50 states and District of Columbia. [4] There are an additional 100 county equivalents in the territories of the United States. [7] [8] [2] 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.

The counties and county-equivalents of the United States of America, by state or territory

State, federal district
or territory
TotalSubdivisions [4] Average
2019 population [36] Land area [37] CountiesEquivalentsTotalPopulationLand area
Flag of Alabama.svg Alabama 4,903,18550,645 sq mi
131,171 km2
676772,587756 sq mi
1,958 km2
Flag of Alaska.svg Alaska [lower-alpha 8] 731,545570,641 sq mi
1,477,953 km2
292925,58219,677 sq mi
50,964 km2
Flag of Arizona.svg Arizona 7,278,717113,594 sq mi
294,207 km2
1515462,0717,573 sq mi
19,614 km2
Flag of Arkansas.svg Arkansas 3,017,82552,035 sq mi
134,771 km2
757539,843694 sq mi
1,797 km2
Flag of California.svg California 39,512,223155,779 sq mi
403,466 km2
5858676,7242,686 sq mi
6,956 km2
Flag of Colorado.svg Colorado 5,758,736103,642 sq mi
268,431 km2
646486,5711,619 sq mi
4,194 km2
Flag of Connecticut.svg Connecticut 3,565,2874,842 sq mi
12,542 km2
88447,057605 sq mi
1,568 km2
Flag of Delaware.svg Delaware 973,7641,949 sq mi
5,047 km2
33317,355650 sq mi
1,682 km2
Flag of Washington, D.C..svg District of Columbia [lower-alpha 9] 705,74961 sq mi
158 km2
11681,17061 sq mi
158 km2
Flag of Florida.svg Florida 21,477,73753,625 sq mi
138,887 km2
6767307,648800 sq mi
2,073 km2
Flag of Georgia (U.S. state).svg Georgia 10,617,42357,513 sq mi
148,959 km2
15915964,845362 sq mi
937 km2
Flag of Hawaii.svg Hawaii 1,415,8726,423 sq mi
16,635 km2
55285,7111,285 sq mi
3,327 km2
Flag of Idaho.svg Idaho 1,792,06582,643 sq mi
214,045 km2
444438,2531,878 sq mi
4,865 km2
Flag of Illinois.svg Illinois 12,671,82155,519 sq mi
143,793 km2
102102125,505544 sq mi
1,410 km2
Flag of Indiana.svg Indiana 6,732,21935,826 sq mi
92,789 km2
929272,098389 sq mi
1,009 km2
Flag of Iowa.svg Iowa 3,155,07055,857 sq mi
144,669 km2
999931,664564 sq mi
1,461 km2
Flag of Kansas.svg Kansas 2,913,31481,759 sq mi
211,754 km2
10510527,688779 sq mi
2,017 km2
Flag of Kentucky.svg Kentucky 4,467,67339,486 sq mi
102,269 km2
12012036,975329 sq mi
852 km2
Flag of Louisiana.svg Louisiana [lower-alpha 10] 4,648,79443,204 sq mi
111,898 km2
646473,151675 sq mi
1,748 km2
Flag of Maine.svg Maine 1,344,21230,843 sq mi
79,883 km2
161683,2171,928 sq mi
4,993 km2
Flag of Maryland.svg Maryland [lower-alpha 11] 6,045,6809,707 sq mi
25,142 km2
23124250,685404 sq mi
1,048 km2
Flag of Massachusetts.svg Massachusetts 6,949,5037,800 sq mi
20,202 km2
1414486,556557 sq mi
1,443 km2
Flag of Michigan.svg Michigan 9,986,85756,539 sq mi
146,435 km2
8383119,618681 sq mi
1,764 km2
Flag of Minnesota.svg Minnesota 5,639,63279,627 sq mi
206,232 km2
878763,448915 sq mi
2,370 km2
Flag of Mississippi.svg Mississippi 2,976,14946,923 sq mi
121,531 km2
828236,448572 sq mi
1,482 km2
Flag of Missouri.svg Missouri [lower-alpha 12] 6,137,42868,742 sq mi
178,040 km2
114111552,983598 sq mi
1,548 km2
Flag of Montana.svg Montana 1,068,778145,546 sq mi
376,962 km2
565618,6162,599 sq mi
6,731 km2
Flag of Nebraska.svg Nebraska 1,934,40876,824 sq mi
198,974 km2
939320,507826 sq mi
2,140 km2
Flag of Nevada.svg Nevada [lower-alpha 13] 3,080,156109,781 sq mi
284,332 km2
16117172,9456,458 sq mi
16,725 km2
Flag of New Hampshire.svg New Hampshire 1,359,7118,953 sq mi
23,187 km2
1010133,480895 sq mi
2,319 km2
Flag of New Jersey.svg New Jersey 8,882,1907,354 sq mi
19,047 km2
2121425,927350 sq mi
907 km2
Flag of New Mexico.svg New Mexico 2,096,829121,298 sq mi
314,161 km2
333363,0613,676 sq mi
9,520 km2
Flag of New York.svg New York 19,453,56147,126 sq mi
122,057 km2
6262318,472760 sq mi
1,969 km2
Flag of North Carolina.svg North Carolina 10,488,08448,618 sq mi
125,920 km2
100100101,468486 sq mi
1,259 km2
Flag of North Dakota.svg North Dakota 762,06269,001 sq mi
178,711 km2
535314,3011,302 sq mi
3,372 km2
Flag of Ohio.svg Ohio 11,689,10040,861 sq mi
105,829 km2
8888131,982464 sq mi
1,203 km2
Flag of Oklahoma.svg Oklahoma 3,956,97168,595 sq mi
177,660 km2
777750,955891 sq mi
2,307 km2
Flag of Oregon.svg Oregon 4,217,73795,988 sq mi
248,608 km2
3636113,7072,666 sq mi
6,906 km2
Flag of Pennsylvania.svg Pennsylvania 12,801,98944,743 sq mi
115,883 km2
6767190,809668 sq mi
1,730 km2
Flag of Rhode Island.svg Rhode Island 1,059,3611,034 sq mi
2,678 km2
55211,285207 sq mi
536 km2
Flag of South Carolina.svg South Carolina 5,148,71430,061 sq mi
77,857 km2
4646107,850653 sq mi
1,693 km2
Flag of South Dakota.svg South Dakota 884,65975,811 sq mi
196,350 km2
666613,1131,149 sq mi
2,975 km2
Flag of Tennessee.svg Tennessee 6,833,17441,235 sq mi
106,798 km2
959570,013434 sq mi
1,124 km2
Flag of Texas.svg Texas 28,995,881261,232 sq mi
676,587 km2
254254109,6951,028 sq mi
2,664 km2
Flag of Utah.svg Utah 3,205,95882,170 sq mi
212,818 km2
2929105,2142,833 sq mi
7,339 km2
Flag of Vermont.svg Vermont 623,9899,217 sq mi
23,871 km2
141444,614658 sq mi
1,705 km2
Flag of Virginia.svg Virginia [lower-alpha 14] 8,535,51939,490 sq mi
102,279 km2
953813363,247295 sq mi
763 km2
Flag of Washington.svg Washington 7,614,89366,456 sq mi
172,119 km2
3939186,8721,704 sq mi
4,413 km2
Flag of West Virginia.svg West Virginia 1,787,14724,038 sq mi
62,259 km2
555533,293437 sq mi
1,132 km2
Flag of Wisconsin.svg Wisconsin 5,822,43454,158 sq mi
140,268 km2
727280,260752 sq mi
1,948 km2
Flag of Wyoming.svg Wyoming 578,75997,093 sq mi
251,470 km2
232325,4574,221 sq mi
10,933 km2
United States
(50 states and the District of Columbia)
328,239,5233,531,905 sq mi
9,147,592 km2
3,0071353,142102,8411,124 sq mi
2,910 km2
Flag of American Samoa.svg American Samoa [lower-alpha 15] [10] [7] 51,50477 sq mi
199 km2
5511,10415 sq mi
40 km2
Flag of Guam.svg Guam [lower-alpha 16] 162,742210 sq mi
540 km2
11162,742210 sq mi
540 km2
Flag of the Northern Mariana Islands.svg Northern Mariana Islands [lower-alpha 17] 52,263179 sq mi
464 km2
4413,06645 sq mi
116 km2
Flag of Puerto Rico.svg Puerto Rico [lower-alpha 18] 3,193,6943,515 sq mi
9,104 km2
787842,78445 sq mi
116 km2
Flag of the United States.svg U.S. Minor Outlying Islands [lower-alpha 19] [lower-alpha 20] 16013 sq mi
34 km2
99181 sq mi
4 km2
Flag of the United States Virgin Islands.svg U.S. Virgin Islands [lower-alpha 21] 104,901134 sq mi
346 km2
3334,96745 sq mi
115 km2
United States
(50 states, the District of Columbia,
and territories)
330,744,0543,535,948 sq mi
9,158,064 km2
3,0072353,242100,8131,091 sq mi
2,825 km2


The average U.S. county population was nearly 100,000 in 2015. The most populous county is Los Angeles County, California, with 10,170,292 residents in 2015. [38] This number is greater than the populations of 41 U.S. states. It also makes Los Angeles County 17.4 times as large as the least populous state, Wyoming.

The second most populous county is Cook County, Illinois, with a population of 5,238,216. [38] Cook County's population is larger than that of 28 individual U.S. states and the combined populations of the six smallest states. [38]

The least populous county is Kalawao County, Hawaii, with 89 residents in 2015. [38] 8 county-equivalents in the U.S. territories have a population of 0: Rose Atoll, Northern Islands Municipality, Baker Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, and Navassa Island. [2] [39] [40] The remaining 3 islands in the U.S. Minor Outlying Islands have small non-permanent human populations. The least populous county-equivalent with a permanent human population is Swains Island, American Samoa (17 residents). [41]

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. [38]

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. [38]


A highway sign designating the border between Nicholas and Greenbrier counties in West Virginia along a secondary road NicholasCountySignWV.jpg
A highway sign designating the border between Nicholas and Greenbrier counties in West Virginia along a secondary road

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). [3] 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). [1]

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).

See also


  1. 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
  2. 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, Alaska. The net result of these changes has been the loss of one county equivalent in the grand total.
  3. American Samoa locally has places called counties, but these are not considered to be counties by the U.S. Census Bureau. [10] [8]
  4. 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, [19] 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. [20]
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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. [35]
  8. The State of Alaska has 19 organized boroughs and one Unorganized Borough divided into 10 census areas.
  9. The United States Census Bureau and the Office of Management and Budget consider the entire District of Columbia to be a county equivalent.
  10. The State of Louisiana has 64 parishes instead of counties.
  11. The State of Maryland has 23 counties and the independent City of Baltimore.
  12. The State of Missouri has 114 counties and the independent City of St. Louis.
  13. The State of Nevada has 16 counties and the independent Consolidated Municipality of Carson City.
  14. The Commonwealth of Virginia has 95 counties and 38 independent cities.
  15. American Samoa has 14 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
  16. Guam does not have counties. All of Guam is counted as one county-equivalent by the U.S. Census Bureau.
  17. 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.
  18. Puerto Rico does not have counties. The U.S. Census Bureau counts Puerto Rico's 78 municipalities as county-equivalents.
  19. 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.
  20. The Minor Outlying Islands have no permanent residents. All reported population consists of temporary military and scientific habitation.
  21. 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.

Related Research Articles

A county is a geographical region of a country used for administrative or other purposes, in certain modern nations. The term is derived from the Old French conté or cunté denoting a jurisdiction under the sovereignty of a count (earl) or a viscount. The modern French is comté, and its equivalents in other languages are contea, contado, comtat, condado, Grafschaft, graafschap, Gau, etc..

A school district is a special-purpose district that operates local public primary and secondary schools in various nations.

A civil township is a widely used unit of local government in the United States that is subordinate to a county. The term town is used in New England, New York, and Wisconsin to refer to the equivalent of the civil township in these states. Specific responsibilities and the degree of autonomy vary based on each state. Civil townships are distinct from survey townships, but in states that have both, the boundaries often coincide and may completely geographically subdivide a county. The U.S. Census Bureau classifies civil townships as minor civil divisions. Currently, there are 20 states with civil townships.

In 48 of the 50 states of the United States, the county is used for the level of local government immediately below the state itself. Louisiana uses parishes, and Alaska uses boroughs. In several states in New England, some or all counties within states have no governments of their own; the counties continue to exist as legal entities, however, and are used by states for some administrative functions and by the United States Census bureau for statistical analysis. There are 3,242 counties and county equivalent administrative units in total, including the District of Columbia and 100 county-equivalents in the U.S. territories.

Political divisions of the United States states, the District of Columbia, territories; and their subdivisions

Political divisionsof the United States are the various recognized governing entities that together form the United States – states, the District of Columbia, territories and Indian reservations.

Local government in the United States Governmental jurisdictions below the level of the state

Local government in the United States refers to governmental jurisdictions below the level of the state. Most states and territories have at least two tiers of local government: counties and municipalities. In some states, counties are divided into townships. There are several different types of jurisdictions at the municipal level, including the city, town, borough, and village. The types and nature of these municipal entities vary from state to state.

Unorganized Borough, Alaska Borough in Alaska

The Unorganized Borough is made up of the portions of the U.S. state of Alaska which are not contained in any of its 19 organized boroughs. It encompasses nearly half of Alaska's land area, 323,440 square miles (837,700 km2), an area larger than any other U.S. state, and larger than the land area of the smallest 16 states combined. As of the 2000 U.S. Census, it had a population of 81,803, which was 13% of the population of the state.

Borough (United States) administrative division at the local government level in the United States

A borough in some U.S. states is a unit of local government or other administrative division below the level of the state. The term is currently used in six states:

Village (United States) administrative division at the local government level in the United States

In the United States, the meaning of "village" varies by geographic area and legal jurisdiction. In many areas, "village" is a term, sometimes informal, for a type of administrative division at the local government level. Since the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the federal government from legislating on local government, the states are free to have political subdivisions called "villages" or not to and to define the word in many ways. Typically, a village is a type of municipality, although it can also be a special district or an unincorporated area. It may or may not be recognized for governmental purposes.

The United States Census Bureau defines a place as a concentration of population which has a name, is locally recognized, and is not part of any other place. A place typically has a residential nucleus and a closely spaced street pattern, and it frequently includes commercial property and other urban land uses. A place may be an incorporated place or it may be a census-designated place (CDP). Incorporated places are defined by the laws of the states in which they are contained. The Census Bureau delineates CDPs. A small settlement in the open countryside or the densely settled fringe of a large city may not be a place as defined by the Census Bureau. As of the 1990 Census, only 26% of the people in the United States lived outside of places.

In the United States, an independent city is a city that is not in the territory of any county or counties with exceptions noted below. Of the 41 independent U.S. cities, 38 are in Virginia, whose state constitution makes them a special case. The three independent cities outside Virginia are Baltimore, Maryland; St. Louis, Missouri; and Carson City, Nevada. The U.S. Census Bureau uses counties as its base unit for presentation of statistical information, and treats independent cities as county equivalents for those purposes. The most populous of them is Baltimore, Maryland.

This article includes information about the 100 most populous incorporated cities, the 100 most populous Core Based Statistical Areas (CBSAs), and the 100 most populous Primary Statistical Areas (PSAs) of the United States and Puerto Rico. This information is displayed in two tables. The first table ranks the cities, CBSAs, and PSAs separately by population. The second table displays the areas in hierarchical order by the most populous PSA, then most populous CBSA, and then most populous city.


  1. 1 2 Kingman Reef. Retrieved July 7, 2018.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Territories of United States Minor Outlying Islands. Retrieved July 6, 2018.
  3. 1 2 3 4 "An Overview of County Government". National Association of Counties . Archived from the original on April 17, 2013. Retrieved April 25, 2013.
  4. 1 2 3 "County Totals Datasets: Population, Population Change and Estimated Components of Population Change: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2012". 2012 Population Estimates. United States Census Bureau, Population Division. March 2013. Archived from the original on July 7, 2013. Retrieved April 30, 2013.
  5. "2010 Census Geographic Entity Tallies by State and Type". United States Census Bureau.
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  10. 1 2 "Counties of American Samoa". Retrieved July 6, 2018.
  11. Harch, Charles E. (1957). The First Seventeen Years, Virginia, 1607–1624. Jamestown 350th Anniversary Historical. pp. 20, 75–76.
  12. "Historic Court East Greenville". Northampton County, Virginia.
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  15. Rubino, Joe (December 24, 2011). "Broomfield 50th anniversary: Success in first 50 years stemmed from bold actions". Broomfield Enterprise. Retrieved July 13, 2012.
  16. "Broomfield History". City and County of Broomfield. Archived from the original on March 29, 2012. Retrieved July 13, 2012.
  17. Viechnicki, Joe (January 3, 2013). "Petersburg Becomes 19th Borough In Alaska". Alaska Public Media.
  18. "County and equivalent entity". Archived from the original on March 22, 2020. Retrieved March 12, 2020.
  19. "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.
  20. "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.
  21. Cities 101 -- Consolidations, from National League of Cities
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  27. 1 2 "How many counties are there in the United States?".
  28. "Guam -- Election Districts" (PDF). 2012.
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  30. General law local government, from Ballotpedia
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  32. "Connecticut State Register and Manual, Section VI: Counties". Connecticut Secretary of the State. Archived from the original on November 27, 2011. Retrieved January 23, 2010. There are no county seats in Connecticut. County government was abolished effective October 1, 1960; counties function only as geographical subdivisions.
  33. "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.
  34. "Direct links to all 24 Maryland Local Education Agencies' web sites" . Retrieved January 22, 2011.
  35. Faulconer, Justin (July 1, 2013). "Bedford reversion to town becomes official today". The News & Advance. Lynchburg, VA. Archived from the original on August 1, 2017. Retrieved July 22, 2013.
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  37. "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.
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  39. Municipalities of Northern Mariana Islands. Retrieved July 7, 2018.
  40. Districts of American Samoa. Retrieved July 7, 2018.
  41. Swains Island. Retrieved July 7, 2018.