County (United States)
|Category||Second-level administrative division|
|Location||States, federal district and territories of the United States of America|
|Number||3,243 (including 136 county equivalents in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, and the 100 county equivalents in the U.S. territories)|
|Populations||Greatest: Los Angeles County, California—10,039,107 (2019)|
|Areas||Largest: San Bernardino County, California—20,057 sq mi (51,950 km)
Yukon–Koyukuk Census Area, Alaska (county equivalent)—145,505 sq mi (376,860 km)
Smallest: Kalawao County, Hawaii—12 sq mi (31 km) Falls Church, Virginia (county equivalent)—2 sq mi (5.2 km) Smallest (including territories): Kingman Reef (county equivalent)—0.01 sq mi (0.026 km) Average: 1,208 sq mi (3,130 km)
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) Individuals:
|Subdivisions||Township, City, Hundred|
The specific governmental powers of counties vary widely between the states.
Others have no further divisions, or may serve as a consolidated city-county where a city and a county have been merged into a unified jurisdiction.
Conversely, the independent cities of the states of Virginia, Maryland, Missouri, and Nevada are municipalities that do not legally belong to any county, but may still function as if they were consolidated city-counties.
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.
Territories of the United States do not have counties; instead, the United States Census Bureau also divides them into 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.
If the 100 county equivalents in the U.S. are counted, then the total is 3,243 counties and county-equivalents in the United States. territories
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).
The origin of the American counties are in the counties of England.
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.
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.
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.
The county may or may not be able to override its townships on certain matters, depending on state law.
Main article: Consolidated city-county
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., 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.
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:
- 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. 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.
- 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. As of July 2013, 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.
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 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 three main islands of the United States Virgin Islands
- The nineteen Villages of Guam
- The four municipalities of the Northern Mariana Islands
- The three districts of American Samoa
- The two atolls of American Samoa
- The nine islands of the U.S. Minor Outlying Islands
The U.S. Census Bureau counts the 3 main islands in the U.S. as county-equivalents, while the USGS counts the Virgin Islandsdistricts of the U.S. Virgin Islands (of which there are 2) as county-equivalents.
See also: Lists of U.S. county name 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 governmental agency's 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
Main article: County statistics of the United States
Further information: List of United States counties and county-equivalents
As of 2016, there were 3,007 counties, 64 parishes, 19 organized boroughs, 11 census areas, 41 independent cities, 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.
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 Alabama||4,903,185||50,645 sq mi
|67||—||67||73,182||756 sq mi
|Alaska Alaska||731,545||570,641 sq mi
|—||30||30||24,385||19,677 sq mi
|Arizona Arizona||7,278,717||113,594 sq mi
|15||—||15||485,248||7,573 sq mi
|Arkansas Arkansas||3,017,825||52,035 sq mi
|75||—||75||40,238||694 sq mi
|California California||39,512,223||155,779 sq mi
|58||—||58||681,245||2,686 sq mi
|Colorado Colorado||5,758,736||103,642 sq mi
|64||—||64||89,980||1,619 sq mi
|Connecticut Connecticut||3,565,287||4,842 sq mi
|8||—||8||445,661||605 sq mi
|Delaware Delaware||973,764||1,949 sq mi
|3||—||3||324,588||650 sq mi
|Washington,_D.C. District of Columbia||705,749||61 sq mi
|—||1||1||705,749||61 sq mi
|Florida Florida||21,477,737||53,625 sq mi
|67||—||67||320,563||800 sq mi
|Georgia_(U.S._state) Georgia||10,617,423||57,513 sq mi
|159||—||159||66,776||362 sq mi
|Hawaii Hawaii||1,415,872||6,423 sq mi
|5||—||5||283,174||1,285 sq mi
|Idaho Idaho||1,787,065||82,643 sq mi
|44||—||44||40,615||1,878 sq mi
|Illinois Illinois||12,671,821||55,519 sq mi
|102||—||102||124,234||544 sq mi
|Indiana Indiana||6,732,219||35,826 sq mi
|92||—||92||73,176||389 sq mi
|Iowa Iowa||3,155,070||55,857 sq mi
|99||—||99||31,869||564 sq mi
|Kansas Kansas||2,913,314||81,759 sq mi
|105||—||105||27,746||779 sq mi
|Kentucky Kentucky||4,467,673||39,486 sq mi
|120||—||120||37,231||329 sq mi
|Louisiana Louisiana||4,648,794||43,204 sq mi
|—||64||64||72,637||675 sq mi
|Maine Maine||1,344,212||30,843 sq mi
|16||—||16||84,013||1,928 sq mi
|Maryland Maryland||6,045,680||9,707 sq mi
|23||1||24||251,903||404 sq mi
|Massachusetts Massachusetts||6,949,503||7,800 sq mi
|14||—||14||496,393||557 sq mi
|Michigan Michigan||9,986,857||56,539 sq mi
|83||—||83||120,324||681 sq mi
|Minnesota Minnesota||5,639,632||79,627 sq mi
|87||—||87||64,823||915 sq mi
|Mississippi Mississippi||2,976,149||46,923 sq mi
|82||—||82||36,295||572 sq mi
|Missouri Missouri||6,137,428||68,742 sq mi
|114||1||115||53,369||598 sq mi
|Montana Montana||1,068,778||145,546 sq mi
|56||—||56||19,085||2,599 sq mi
|Nebraska Nebraska||1,934,408||76,824 sq mi
|93||—||93||20,800||826 sq mi
|Nevada Nevada||3,080,156||109,781 sq mi
|16||1||17||181,186||6,458 sq mi
|New_Hampshire New Hampshire||1,359,711||8,953 sq mi
|10||—||10||135,971||895 sq mi
|New_Jersey New Jersey||8,882,190||7,354 sq mi
|21||—||21||422,961||350 sq mi
|New_Mexico New Mexico||2,096,829||121,298 sq mi
|33||—||33||63,540||3,676 sq mi
|New_York_(state) New York||19,453,561||47,126 sq mi
|62||—||62||313,767||760 sq mi
|North_Carolina North Carolina||10,488,084||48,618 sq mi
|100||—||100||104,881||486 sq mi
|North_Dakota North Dakota||762,062||69,001 sq mi
|53||—||53||14,379||1,302 sq mi
|Ohio Ohio||11,689,100||40,861 sq mi
|88||—||88||132,831||464 sq mi
|Oklahoma Oklahoma||3,956,971||68,595 sq mi
|77||—||77||51,389||891 sq mi
|Oregon Oregon||4,217,737||95,988 sq mi
|36||—||36||117,159||2,666 sq mi
|Pennsylvania Pennsylvania||12,801,989||44,743 sq mi
|67||—||67||191,074||668 sq mi
|Rhode_Island Rhode Island||1,059,361||1,034 sq mi
|5||—||5||211,872||207 sq mi
|South_Carolina South Carolina||5,148,714||30,061 sq mi
|46||—||46||111,929||653 sq mi
|South_Dakota South Dakota||884,659||75,811 sq mi
|66||—||66||13,404||1,149 sq mi
|Tennessee Tennessee||6,833,174||41,235 sq mi
|95||—||95||71,928||434 sq mi
|Texas Texas||28,995,881||261,232 sq mi
|254||—||254||114,157||1,028 sq mi
|Utah Utah||3,205,958||82,170 sq mi
|29||—||29||110,550||2,833 sq mi
|Vermont Vermont||623,989||9,217 sq mi
|14||—||14||44,571||658 sq mi
|Virginia Virginia||8,535,519||39,490 sq mi
|95||38||133||64,177||295 sq mi
|Washington_(state) Washington||7,614,893||66,456 sq mi
|39||—||39||195,254||1,704 sq mi
|West_Virginia West Virginia||1,792,147||24,038 sq mi
|55||—||55||32,584||437 sq mi
|Wisconsin Wisconsin||5,822,434||54,158 sq mi
|72||—||72||80,867||752 sq mi
|Wyoming 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 American Samoa||51,504||77 sq mi
|—||5||5||11,104||15 sq mi
|Guam Guam||162,742||210 sq mi
|—||1||1||162,742||210 sq mi
|Northern_Mariana_Islands Northern Mariana Islands||52,263||179 sq mi
|—||4||4||13,066||45 sq mi
|Puerto_Rico Puerto Rico||3,193,694||3,515 sq mi
|—||78||78||40,945||45 sq mi
|United_States U.S. Minor Outlying Islands||160||13 sq mi
|—||9||9||18||1 sq mi
|United_States_Virgin_Islands U.S. Virgin Islands||104,901||134 sq mi
|—||3||3||34,967||45 sq mi
(50 states, the District of Columbia, and territories)
|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 over 100,000 in 2019.
The most populous county is Los Angeles County, California, with 10,039,107 residents in 2019.
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 5,150,233.
Cook County's population is larger than that of 28 individual U.S. and the combined populations of the six smallest states. states
The least populous county is Kalawao County, Hawaii, with 86 residents in 2019.
Eight county-equivalents in the U.S. have no human population: territoriesRose Atoll, Northern Islands Municipality, Baker Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, and Navassa Island.
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 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/km) 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 km), 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.
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 km).
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 km).
The least extensive county is Kalawao County, Hawaii, with a land area of 11.991 square miles (31.058 km).
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 km).
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.
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).
- Lists of counties in the United States
- List of United States counties and county equivalents
- Index of U.S. counties
- List of former United States counties
- List of the most common U.S. county names
- Flags of counties of the United States
- List of FIPS codes
- Census geographic units of Canada
- Municipalities of Mexico
Credits to the contents of this page go to the authors of the corresponding Wikipedia page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/County (United States).