County (United States)

Last updated

Usa counties large.svg
Category Second-level administrative division
Location States, federal district and territories of the United States of America
Found in State
Number3,243 (including 136 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—10,014,009 (2020)
Least: Loving County, Texas-64
8 entities [lower-alpha 1] (county equivalents)—0 (2020)
Average: 104,435 (2019)
Median: Nicholas County, West Virginia—25,965 (2019)
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)

In the United States, a county or county equivalent is an administrative or political subdivision of a U.S. state or other territories of the United States which consists of a geographic area with specific boundaries and usually some level of governmental authority. [3] The term "county" is used in 48 states, while Louisiana and Alaska have functionally equivalent subdivisions called parishes and boroughs, respectively. [3] 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 been 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 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 began to also count Connecticut's Councils of Governments, which took over some of the regional powers from the state's former county governments, as county equivalents.

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. [4] [5] 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. [5]

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 was concentrated in just 143 of the more than 3,000 counties, or just 4.6% of all counties; the five most populous counties, ordered from most to least, are Los Angeles County, California; Cook County, Illinois; Harris County, Texas; Maricopa County, Arizona; and San Diego County, California. [6]

As of 2012, there are 3,143 counties and county-equivalents in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. [7] 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. [8] [9] [4] [5] [lower-alpha 2]


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. [10] America's oldest intact county court records can be found at Eastville, Virginia, in Northampton (originally Accomac) County, dating to 1632. [11] 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. [12]

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. [13] 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. [14] 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. [13] 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. [15]

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. [16] [17] The newest county equivalents are the Alaskan census areas of Chugach and Copper River, both established in 2019, [18] and the Alaskan boroughs of Petersburg established in 2013, Wrangell established in 2008, and Skagway established in 2007. [19]

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. 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., [3] 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; City and County of San Francisco, California; and Lynchburg-Moore County, Tennessee

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, Baldwin, Jacksonville Beach, and Neptune Beach.

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: [20]

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. Likewise, the boroughs of New York City are coextensive with counties and are therefore by definition also not county equivalents.


There are technically no counties in U.S. territories. American Samoa has its own counties, but the U.S. Census Bureau does not treat them as counties (instead, the U.S. Census Bureau treats American Samoa's three districts and two atolls as county equivalents). [4] [5] American Samoa's counties are treated as minor civil divisions. [5] Most territories are directly divided into municipalities or similar units, which are treated as equivalent of counties for statistical purposes: [4] [2] [5] [29] [30]

The U.S. Census Bureau counts all of Guam as one county equivalent (with the FIPS code 66010), [4] [5] while the USGS counts Guam's election districts (villages) as county equivalents. [31] [32] 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. [4] [31]

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. [33]

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 other countries, such as the United Kingdom (the latter is most common in the area of the original Thirteen Colonies in the case of the United Kingdom, or in places which had a large number of immigrants from a particular area for other countries). 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. [34] Quite a few counties bear names of French or Spanish origin, such as Marquette County being named after French missionary Father Jacques Marquette. [33]

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. [35]

Counties are usually governed by an elected body, variously called the county commission, board of supervisors, commissioners' court, county council, 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 laws 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. [36] In Connecticut and Rhode Island, [37] [38] 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. [39] Counties in Hawaii also handle almost all services since there is no formal level of government (municipality, public education, or otherwise) existing below that of the county in the state. [40]

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 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. [lower-alpha 5] 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 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 Louisiana parishes, 19 organized boroughs and 11 census areas in Alaska, 41 independent cities, [lower-alpha 6] and the District of Columbia for a total of 3,143 counties and county equivalents in the 50 states and District of Columbia. [7] There are an additional 100 county equivalents in the territories of the United States. [4] [5] [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 by their respective state legislatures. The five counties of Rhode Island and eight of the 14 counties of Massachusetts no longer have functional county governments, but continue to exist as legal and census entities. Connecticut abolished county governments in 1960, leaving its eight counties as mere legal and census entities. In 2022, the U.S. Census Bureau recognized the state's nine Councils of Governments as replacement for the state's eight legacy counties for all statistical purposes; full implementation was completed in 2024.

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

State, federal district
or territory
TotalSubdivisions [7] Average
2019 population [42] Land area [43] CountiesEquivalentsTotalPopulationLand area
Flag of Alabama.svg Alabama 4,903,18550,645 sq mi
131,171 km2
676773,182756 sq mi
1,958 km2
Flag of Alaska.svg Alaska 731,545570,641 sq mi
1,477,953 km2
30 [lower-alpha 7] 3024,38519,677 sq mi
50,964 km2
Flag of Arizona.svg Arizona 7,278,717113,594 sq mi
294,207 km2
1515485,2487,573 sq mi
19,614 km2
Flag of Arkansas.svg Arkansas 3,017,82552,035 sq mi
134,771 km2
757540,238694 sq mi
1,797 km2
Flag of California.svg California 39,512,223155,779 sq mi
403,466 km2
5858681,2452,686 sq mi
6,956 km2
Flag of Colorado.svg Colorado 5,758,736103,642 sq mi
268,431 km2
646489,9801,619 sq mi
4,194 km2
Flag of Connecticut.svg Connecticut 3,565,2874,842 sq mi
12,542 km2
89 [lower-alpha 8] 17445,661605 sq mi
1,568 km2
Flag of Delaware.svg Delaware 973,7641,949 sq mi
5,047 km2
33324,588650 sq mi
1,682 km2
Flag of Washington, D.C.svg District of Columbia 705,74961 sq mi
158 km2
1 [lower-alpha 9] 1705,74961 sq mi
158 km2
Flag of Florida.svg Florida 21,477,73753,625 sq mi
138,887 km2
6767320,563800 sq mi
2,073 km2
Flag of Georgia (U.S. state).svg Georgia 10,617,42357,513 sq mi
148,959 km2
15915966,776362 sq mi
937 km2
Flag of Hawaii.svg Hawaii 1,415,8726,423 sq mi
16,635 km2
55283,1741,285 sq mi
3,327 km2
Flag of Idaho.svg Idaho 1,787,06582,643 sq mi
214,045 km2
444440,6151,878 sq mi
4,865 km2
Flag of Illinois.svg Illinois 12,671,82155,519 sq mi
143,793 km2
102102124,234544 sq mi
1,410 km2
Flag of Indiana.svg Indiana 6,732,21935,826 sq mi
92,789 km2
929273,176389 sq mi
1,009 km2
Flag of Iowa.svg Iowa 3,155,07055,857 sq mi
144,669 km2
999931,869564 sq mi
1,461 km2
Flag of Kansas.svg Kansas 2,913,31481,759 sq mi
211,754 km2
10510527,746779 sq mi
2,017 km2
Flag of Kentucky.svg Kentucky 4,467,67339,486 sq mi
102,269 km2
12012037,231329 sq mi
852 km2
Flag of Louisiana.svg Louisiana 4,648,79443,204 sq mi
111,898 km2
64 [lower-alpha 10] 6472,637675 sq mi
1,748 km2
Flag of Maine.svg Maine 1,344,21230,843 sq mi
79,883 km2
161684,0131,928 sq mi
4,993 km2
Flag of Maryland.svg Maryland 6,045,6809,707 sq mi
25,142 km2
231 [lower-alpha 11] 24251,903404 sq mi
1,048 km2
Flag of Massachusetts.svg Massachusetts 6,949,5037,800 sq mi
20,202 km2
1414496,393557 sq mi
1,443 km2
Flag of Michigan.svg Michigan 9,986,85756,539 sq mi
146,435 km2
8383120,324681 sq mi
1,764 km2
Flag of Minnesota.svg Minnesota 5,639,63279,627 sq mi
206,232 km2
878764,823915 sq mi
2,370 km2
Flag of Mississippi.svg Mississippi 2,976,14946,923 sq mi
121,531 km2
828236,295572 sq mi
1,482 km2
Flag of Missouri.svg Missouri 6,137,42868,742 sq mi
178,040 km2
1141 [lower-alpha 12] 11553,369598 sq mi
1,548 km2
Flag of Montana.svg Montana 1,068,778145,546 sq mi
376,962 km2
565619,0852,599 sq mi
6,731 km2
Flag of Nebraska.svg Nebraska 1,934,40876,824 sq mi
198,974 km2
939320,800826 sq mi
2,140 km2
Flag of Nevada.svg Nevada 3,080,156109,781 sq mi
284,332 km2
161 [lower-alpha 13] 17181,1866,458 sq mi
16,725 km2
Flag of New Hampshire.svg New Hampshire 1,359,7118,953 sq mi
23,187 km2
1010135,971895 sq mi
2,319 km2
Flag of New Jersey.svg New Jersey 8,882,1907,354 sq mi
19,047 km2
2121422,961350 sq mi
907 km2
Flag of New Mexico.svg New Mexico 2,096,829121,298 sq mi
314,161 km2
333363,5403,676 sq mi
9,520 km2
Flag of New York.svg New York 19,453,56147,126 sq mi
122,057 km2
6262313,767760 sq mi
1,969 km2
Flag of North Carolina.svg North Carolina 10,488,08448,618 sq mi
125,920 km2
100100104,881486 sq mi
1,259 km2
Flag of North Dakota.svg North Dakota 762,06269,001 sq mi
178,711 km2
535314,3791,302 sq mi
3,372 km2
Flag of Ohio.svg Ohio 11,689,10040,861 sq mi
105,829 km2
8888132,831464 sq mi
1,203 km2
Flag of Oklahoma.svg Oklahoma 3,956,97168,595 sq mi
177,660 km2
777751,389891 sq mi
2,307 km2
Flag of Oregon.svg Oregon 4,217,73795,988 sq mi
248,608 km2
3636117,1592,666 sq mi
6,906 km2
Flag of Pennsylvania.svg Pennsylvania 12,801,98944,743 sq mi
115,883 km2
6767191,074668 sq mi
1,730 km2
Flag of Rhode Island.svg Rhode Island 1,059,3611,034 sq mi
2,678 km2
55211,872207 sq mi
536 km2
Flag of South Carolina.svg South Carolina 5,148,71430,061 sq mi
77,857 km2
4646111,929653 sq mi
1,693 km2
Flag of South Dakota.svg South Dakota 884,65975,811 sq mi
196,350 km2
666613,4041,149 sq mi
2,975 km2
Flag of Tennessee.svg Tennessee 6,833,17441,235 sq mi
106,798 km2
959571,928434 sq mi
1,124 km2
Flag of Texas.svg Texas 28,995,881261,232 sq mi
676,587 km2
254254114,1571,028 sq mi
2,664 km2
Flag of Utah.svg Utah 3,205,95882,170 sq mi
212,818 km2
2929110,5502,833 sq mi
7,339 km2
Flag of Vermont.svg Vermont 623,9899,217 sq mi
23,871 km2
141444,571658 sq mi
1,705 km2
Flag of Virginia.svg Virginia 8,535,51939,490 sq mi
102,279 km2
9538 [lower-alpha 14] 13364,177416 sq mi
1,077 km2
Flag of Washington.svg Washington 7,614,89366,456 sq mi
172,119 km2
3939195,2541,704 sq mi
4,413 km2
Flag of West Virginia.svg West Virginia 1,792,14724,038 sq mi
62,259 km2
555532,584437 sq mi
1,132 km2
Flag of Wisconsin.svg Wisconsin 5,822,43454,158 sq mi
140,268 km2
727280,867752 sq mi
1,948 km2
Flag of Wyoming.svg Wyoming 578,75997,093 sq mi
251,470 km2
232325,1634,221 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
3,0071453,152104,4351,124 sq mi
2,910 km2
Flag of American Samoa.svg American Samoa [lower-alpha 15] 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
787840,94545 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
3,0072453,252101,9871,091 sq mi
2,825 km2


County population map
2022 Census data County population map.webp
County population map
2022 Census data

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, and is only slightly smaller than the combined population of the 10 least populous states and Washington, D.C. 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. [48] Cook County's population is larger than that of 28 individual U.S. states and the combined populations of the six smallest states. [48]

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. [2] [49] [50] 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), [51] although since 2008 this population has not been permanent either. [52] [53] [54] [55]

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 persons/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 persons/km2) in 2015. [48]

In the 50 states (plus the 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. [48]


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, for example, contains portions of five counties, while numerous other cities comprise portions of four 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

Explanatory notes

  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 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 was incorporated as Petersburg Borough and the Valdez–Cordova Census Area was split into the Copper River and Chugach census areas. The net result of these changes has been the number changing but staying 3,143.
  3. The Unorganized Borough formed by the Borough Act of 1961 is a legal entity, run by the Alaska state government as an extension of State government. [22] 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. [23]
  4. 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.
  5. 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 area and have similar demographics.
  6. 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. [41]
  7. Alaska has 19 organized boroughs and one Unorganized Borough divided into 11 census areas.
  8. On June 6, 2022, the U.S. Census Bureau formally recognized Connecticut's nine councils of governments as county equivalents instead of the state's eight counties. Connecticut's county governments were disbanded in 1960, and the councils of governments took over some of the local governmental functions. Connecticut's eight historical counties continue to exist in name only, and are no longer considered for statistical purposes.
  9. The U.S. Census Bureau and the Office of Management and Budget consider the entire District of Columbia to be a county equivalent.
  10. Louisiana has 64 parishes instead of counties.
  11. Baltimore, Maryland is an independent city.
  12. St. Louis, Missouri is an independent city.
  13. Carson City, Nevada is an independent city.
  14. Virginia has 38 independent cities.
  15. Although American Samoa has 15 counties, [44] [45] [46] they are not counted by the U.S. Census Bureau. The Bureau instead counts American Samoa's 3 districts and 2 atolls as county equivalents. [47] [4]
  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 U.S. 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.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Borough (United States)</span> Administrative division at the local government level in the United States

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