The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district. The country is situated mostly in central North America between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, bordered by Canada to the north and Mexico to the South. The country also possesses several territories in the Pacific and Caribbean.
Agriculture employs only 2.4% of the labour force. The United States was a pioneer of large-scale industrial production. With almost every raw material available within its own boundaries, or readily gained through trading, its mining and extractive industries have been heavily exploited.
The overwhelming majority of the people are Christian. Catholicism is the largest single denomination, but Protestants of all denominations (Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and others) outnumber Catholics. Judaism is the largest non-Christian faith, followed by Islam, which has a significant African-American following.
The climate of a place is the seasonal pattern of its inputs of solar energy, wind, and precipitation. With the exception of parts of Hawaii, no place in the U.S. ever sees the sun directly overhead. In general, sun intensity and, consequently, temperatures decrease from South to North; in summer, however, the decrease in intensity is partly offset by longer days in the North.
After decades of immigration and acculturation, many U.S. citizens can trace no discernible ethnic identity, describing themselves generically only as "American," while others claim mixed identities. The 2000 U.S. census introduced a new category for those who identified themselves as a member of more than one race; of 281.4 million counted, 2.4 percent chose this multiracial classification. The U.S population is formed by European, African, Middle Eastern, Asian, Hispanic and Native American ethnic groups and the mix between them.
Spanish is the second most commonly spoken language in the United States—there are about 28 million native Spanish speakers. After English and Spanish, however, French is spoken regularly in more American homes more than any other language (1.6 million). More than a million Americans also regularly speak German, Italian, Chinese and Navajo.
The U.S. is a producer of limited amounts of synthetic drugs and synthetic precursor chemicals and is a major consumer of Southwest Asian heroin, Latin American cocaine, and synthetic drugs. The U.S. is also a center for money-laundering.
The structure of U.S. education includes 12 years of regular schooling, preceded by a year or two of pre-school education, and followed by a four-stage higher education degree system (associate, bachelor's, master's, doctorate) plus various non-degree certificates and diplomas. In addition, there are special education services, adult basic and continuing education, leisure learning programs, and continuing professional education and training programs. Completion of each level or stage is a prerequisite for access to the next, and a variety of assessment and evaluation tools are used to determine learning needs, academic achievement standards, and eligibility to proceed to higher levels of education.
Life expectancy for someone born in 1998 was 76.8 years. Males could expect to live 73.5 years, females 80.2 years. The overall death rate is comparable to that of most nations, 8.8 per 1,000 people in 1999. In 1998 the leading cause of death is heart disease.
The military service age and obligation 16-33 (officers 17-28) for voluntary military service (with parental consent under 18). Women serve in military services, but are excluded from ground combat positions and some naval postings. As of October 2009, women comprised 12.1% of officers and 9% of enlisted personnel in the regular forces.
Americans' recreational activities range from the major spectator sports - professional baseball, football, basketball, ice hockey, and soccer, horse racing, and collegiate football and basketball - to home gardening. Participating sports are a favorite form of recreation, including jogging, aerobics, tennis, and golf. Skiing is a popular recreation in New England and the Western mountain ranges, while sailing, power boating, rafting and canoeing are popular water sports.
Between 2007 and 2009 the U.S. witnessed a series of banking failures that led to a prolonged recession. The financial crisis was the worst since the Great Depression and caused a significant increase in the federal budget deficit. This crisis still affects the country (2012).
Terrorists (al-Qaeda) attacked the US on September 11, 2001, killing thousands of people. This ultimately resulted in the US declaring and waging a war on “terror” and over 6,000 US soldiers killed in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Osama Bin Laden was eventually tracked down and killed some 10 years later.
About one-half the size of Russia; about three-tenths the size of Africa; about one-half the size of South America (or slightly larger than Brazil); slightly larger than China; about two and one-half times the size of Western Europe.
Although 55 delegates were involved in creating our Constitution, only 39 men signed it. Not all 55 men were present the entire time, and these 39 were the ones present at the conclusion of the writing. A few of the more well-known Constitution signers are Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, and George Washington.
The first permanent English settlement in North America was JAMESTOWN (q.v.). Established in 1607, Jamestown was a project of the Virginia Co. of London, a joint-stock corporation chartered in 1606 by King James I of England for trading in and colonizing North America. After a series of catastrophic misadventures, in which thousands died because of disease, starvation, and (in 1622) a war with the Indians, the Crown revoked the company’s charter in 1624 and took control of the colony as a royal province.