The United States Capitol,
where Congress meets:
the Senate, left; the House, right</div></div></div></div>
The United States is the world's oldest surviving federation. It is a constitutional republic and representative democracy, "in which majority rule is tempered by minority rights protected by law". The government is regulated by a system of checks and balances defined by the U.S. Constitution, which serves as the country's supreme legal document. For 2013, the U.S. ranked 19th on the Democracy Index and 17th on the Corruption Perceptions Index.
In the American federalist system, citizens are usually subject to three levels of government: federal, state, and local. The local government's duties are commonly split between county and municipal governments. In almost all cases, executive and legislative officials are elected by a plurality vote of citizens by district. There is no proportional representation at the federal level, and it is very rare at lower levels.
The federal government is composed of three branches:
- Legislative: The bicameral Congress, made up of the Senate and the House of Representatives, makes federal law, declares war, approves treaties, has the power of the purse, and has the power of impeachment, by which it can remove sitting members of the government.
- Executive: The President is the commander-in-chief of the military, can veto legislative bills before they become law (subject to Congressional override), and appoints the members of the Cabinet (subject to Senate approval) and other officers, who administer and enforce federal laws and policies.
- Judicial: The Supreme Court and lower federal courts, whose judges are appointed by the President with Senate approval, interpret laws and overturn those they find unconstitutional.
The House of Representatives has 435 voting members, each representing a congressional district for a two-year term. House seats are apportioned among the states by population every tenth year. At the 2010 census, seven states had the minimum of one representative, while California, the most populous state, had 53.
The Senate has 100 members with each state having two senators, elected at-large to six-year terms; one third of Senate seats are up for election every other year. The President serves a four-year term and may be elected to the office no more than twice. The President is not elected by direct vote, but by an indirect electoral college system in which the determining votes are apportioned to the states and the District of Columbia. The Supreme Court, led by the Chief Justice of the United States, has nine members, who serve for life.
The state governments are structured in roughly similar fashion; Nebraska uniquely has a unicameral legislature. The governor (chief executive) of each state is directly elected. Some state judges and cabinet officers are appointed by the governors of the respective states, while others are elected by popular vote.
The original text of the Constitution establishes the structure and responsibilities of the federal government and its relationship with the individual states. Article One protects the right to the "great writ" of habeas corpus. The Constitution has been amended 27 times; the first ten amendments, which make up the Bill of Rights, and the Fourteenth Amendment form the central basis of Americans' individual rights. All laws and governmental procedures are subject to judicial review and any law ruled by the courts to be in violation of the Constitution is voided. The principle of judicial review, not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution, was established by the Supreme Court in Marbury v. Madison (1803) in a decision handed down by Chief Justice John Marshall.
The United States is a federal union of 50 states. The original 13 states were the successors of the 13 colonies that rebelled against British rule. Early in the country's history, three new states were organized on territory separated from the claims of the existing states: Kentucky from Virginia; Tennessee from North Carolina; and Maine from Massachusetts. Most of the other states have been carved from territories obtained through war or purchase by the U.S. government. One set of exceptions includes Vermont, Texas, and Hawaii: each was a well-established independent republic before joining the union. During the American Civil War, West Virginia broke away from Virginia. The most recent state—Hawaii—achieved statehood on August 21, 1959. The states do not have the right to unilaterally secede from the union.
The states compose the vast bulk of the U.S. land mass. The District of Columbia is a federal district which contains the capital of the United States, Washington, D.C. The United States also possesses five major overseas territories: Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands in the Caribbean; and American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands in the Pacific. Those born in the major territories are birthright U.S. citizens except Samoans. Samoans born in American Samoa are born U.S. nationals, and may become naturalized citizens. American citizens residing in the territories have fundamental constitutional protections and elective self-government, with a territorial Member of Congress, but they do not vote for president as states. Territories have personal and business tax regimes different from that of states.
The United States also observes tribal sovereignty of the Native Nations. Though reservations are within state borders, the reservation is a sovereign entity. While the United States recognizes this sovereignty, other countries may not.
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- State flag, State, Date of statehood
| 23x15px Alabama || December 14, 1819
| 23x15px Alaska || January 3, 1959
| 23x15px Arizona || February 14, 1912
| 23x15px Arkansas || June 15, 1836
| 23x15px California || September 9, 1850
| 23x15px Colorado || August 1, 1876
| 20x17px Connecticut || January 9, 1788
| 23x15px Delaware || December 7, 1787
| 23x15px Florida || March 3, 1845
| 23x15px Georgia || January 2, 1788
| 23x15px Hawaii || August 21, 1959
| 23x15px Idaho || July 3, 1890
| 23x15px Illinois || December 3, 1818
| 23x15px Indiana || December 11, 1816
| 23x15px Iowa || December 28, 1846
| 23x15px Kansas || January 29, 1861
| 23x15px Kentucky || June 1, 1792
| 23x15px Louisiana || April 30, 1812
| 23x15px Maine || March 15, 1820
| 23x15px Maryland || April 28, 1788
| 23x15px Massachusetts || February 6, 1788
| 23x15px Michigan || January 26, 1837
| 23x15px Minnesota || May 11, 1858
| 23x15px Mississippi || December 10, 1817
| 23x15px Missouri || August 10, 1821
| 23x15px Montana || November 8, 1889
| 23x15px Nebraska || March 1, 1867
| 23x15px Nevada || October 31, 1864
| 23x15px New Hampshire || June 21, 1788
| 23x15px New Jersey || December 18, 1787
| 23x15px New Mexico || January 6, 1912
| 23x15px New York || July 26, 1788
| 23x15px North Carolina || November 21, 1789
| 23x16px North Dakota || November 2, 1889
| File:Flag of Ohio.svg Ohio || March 1, 1803
| 23x15px Oklahoma || November 16, 1907
| 23x15px Oregon || February 14, 1859
| 23x15px Pennsylvania || December 12, 1787
| 20x17px Rhode Island || May 29, 1790
| 23x15px South Carolina || May 23, 1788
| 23x15px South Dakota || November 2, 1889
| 23x15px Tennessee || June 1, 1796
| 23x15px Texas || December 29, 1845
| 23x15px Utah || January 4, 1896
| 23x15px Vermont || March 4, 1791
| 23x15px Virginia || June 25, 1788
| 23x15px Washington || November 11, 1889
| 23x15px West Virginia || June 20, 1863
| 23x15px Wisconsin || May 29, 1848
| 23x15px Wyoming || July 10, 1890
Parties and elections
The United States has operated under a two-party system for most of its history. For elective offices at most levels, state-administered primary elections choose the major party nominees for subsequent general elections. Since the general election of 1856, the major parties have been the Democratic Party, founded in 1824, and the Republican Party, founded in 1854. Since the Civil War, only one third-party presidential candidate—former president Theodore Roosevelt, running as a Progressive in 1912—has won as much as 20% of the popular vote. The third-largest political party is the Libertarian Party. The President and Vice-president are elected through the Electoral College system.
Within American political culture, the Republican Party is considered conservative and the Democratic Party is considered liberal. The states of the Northeast and West Coast and some of the Great Lakes states, known as "blue states", are relatively liberal. The "red states" of the South and parts of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains are relatively conservative.
The winner of the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, Democrat Barack Obama, is the 44th, and current, U.S. president.
In the 114th United States Congress, both the House of Representatives and the Senate are controlled by the Republican Party. The Senate currently consists of 54 Republicans, and 44 Democrats with two independents who caucus with the Democrats; the House consists of 246 Republicans and 188 Democrats, with one vacancy. In state governorships, there are 31 Republicans, 18 Democrats and one independent. Among the DC mayor and the 5 territorial governors, there are 2 Republicans, 2 Democrats (one is also in the PPD), and 2 Independents.
Since the founding of the United States until the 2000s, the country's governance has been primarily dominated by White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs). However, the situation has changed recently and of the top 17 positions (four national candidates of the two major party in the 2012 presidential election, four leaders in 112th United States Congress, and nine Supreme Court Justices) there is only one WASP.
The United States has an established structure of foreign relations. It is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, and New York City is home to the United Nations Headquarters. It is a member of the G7, G20, and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Almost all countries have embassies in Washington, D.C., and many have consulates around the country. Likewise, nearly all nations host American diplomatic missions. However, Iran, North Korea, Bhutan, and the Republic of China (Taiwan) do not have formal diplomatic relations with the United States (although the U.S. still maintains relations with Taiwan and supplies them with military equipment).
The United States has a "special relationship" with the United Kingdom and strong ties with Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Japan, South Korea, Israel, and several European Union countries, including France, Italy, Germany, and Spain. It works closely with fellow NATO members on military and security issues and with its neighbors through the Organization of American States and free trade agreements such as the trilateral North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. In 2008, the United States spent a net $25.4 billion on official development assistance, the most in the world. As a share of America's large gross national income (GNI), however, the U.S. contribution of 0.18% ranked last among 22 donor states. By contrast, private overseas giving by Americans is relatively generous.
The U.S. exercises full international defense authority and responsibility for three sovereign nations through Compact of Free Association with Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau, all of which are Pacific island nations which were part of the U.S.-administered Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands beginning after World War II, and gained independence in subsequent years.
Taxes are levied in the United States at the federal, state and local government level. These include taxes on income, payroll, property, sales, imports, estates and gifts, as well as various fees. In 2010 taxes collected by federal, state and municipal governments amounted to 24.8% of GDP. During FY2012, the federal government collected approximately $2.45 trillion in tax revenue, up $147 billion or 6% versus FY2011 revenues of $2.30 trillion. Primary receipt categories included individual income taxes ($1,132B or 47%), Social Security/Social Insurance taxes ($845B or 35%), and corporate taxes ($242B or 10%).
U.S. taxation is generally progressive, especially the federal income taxes, and is among the most progressive in the developed world. The highest 10% of income earners pay a majority of federal taxes, and about half of all taxes. Payroll taxes for Social Security are a flat regressive tax, with no tax charged on income above $113,700 and no tax at all paid on unearned income from things such as stocks and capital gains. The historic reasoning for the regressive nature of the payroll tax is that entitlement programs have not been viewed as welfare transfers. The top 10% paid 51.8% of total federal taxes in 2009, and the top 1%, with 13.4% of pre-tax national income, paid 22.3% of federal taxes. In 2013 the Tax Policy Center projected total federal effective tax rates of 35.5% for the top 1%, 27.2% for the top quintile, 13.8% for the middle quintile, and −2.7% for the bottom quintile. The incidence of corporate income tax has been a matter of considerable ongoing controversy for decades. State and local taxes vary widely, but are generally less progressive than federal taxes as they rely heavily on broadly borne regressive sales and property taxes that yield less volatile revenue streams, though their consideration does not eliminate the progressive nature of overall taxation.
During FY 2012, the federal government spent $3.54 trillion on a budget or cash basis, down $60 billion or 1.7% vs. FY 2011 spending of $3.60 trillion. Major categories of FY 2012 spending included: Medicare & Medicaid ($802B or 23% of spending), Social Security ($768B or 22%), Defense Department ($670B or 19%), non-defense discretionary ($615B or 17%), other mandatory ($461B or 13%) and interest ($223B or 6%).
The total national debt in the United States was $18.527 trillion (106% of the GDP), according to an estimate for 2014 by the International Monetary Fund. In January 2015, U.S. federal government debt held by the public was approximately $13 trillion, or about 72% of U.S. GDP. Intra-governmental holdings stood at $5 trillion, giving a combined total debt of $18.080 trillion. By 2012, total federal debt had surpassed 100% of U.S. GDP. The U.S. has a credit rating of AA+ from Standard & Poor's, AAA from Fitch, and Aaa from Moody's.
Historically, the U.S. public debt as a share of GDP increased during wars and recessions, and subsequently declined. For example, debt held by the public as a share of GDP peaked just after World War II (113% of GDP in 1945), but then fell over the following 30 years. In recent decades, large budget deficits and the resulting increases in debt have led to concern about the long-term sustainability of the federal government's fiscal policies. However, these concerns are not universally shared.
The President holds the title of commander-in-chief of the nation's armed forces and appoints its leaders, the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The United States Department of Defense administers the armed forces, including the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force. The Coast Guard is run by the Department of Homeland Security in peacetime and by the Department of the Navy during times of war. In 2008, the armed forces had 1.4 million personnel on active duty. The Reserves and National Guard brought the total number of troops to 2.3 million. The Department of Defense also employed about 700,000 civilians, not including contractors.
Military service is voluntary, though conscription may occur in wartime through the Selective Service System. American forces can be rapidly deployed by the Air Force's large fleet of transport aircraft, the Navy's 10 active aircraft carriers, and Marine expeditionary units at sea with the Navy's Atlantic and Pacific fleets. The military operates 865 bases and facilities abroad, and maintains deployments greater than 100 active duty personnel in 25 foreign countries.
The military budget of the United States in 2011 was more than $700 billion, 41% of global military spending and equal to the next 14 largest national military expenditures combined. At 4.7% of GDP, the rate was the second-highest among the top 15 military spenders, after Saudi Arabia. U.S. defense spending as a percentage of GDP ranked 23rd globally in 2012 according to the CIA. Defense's share of U.S. spending has generally declined in recent decades, from Cold War peaks of 14.2% of GDP in 1953 and 69.5% of federal outlays in 1954 to 4.7% of GDP and 18.8% of federal outlays in 2011.
The proposed base Department of Defense budget for 2012, $553 billion, was a 4.2% increase over 2011; an additional $118 billion was proposed for the military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. The last American troops serving in Iraq departed in December 2011; 4,484 service members were killed during the Iraq War. Approximately 90,000 U.S. troops were serving in Afghanistan in April 2012; by November 8, 2013 2,285 had been killed during the War in Afghanistan.
Law enforcement and crime
Law enforcement in the United States is primarily the responsibility of local police and sheriff's departments, with state police providing broader services. Federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the U.S. Marshals Service have specialized duties, including protecting civil rights, national security and enforcing U.S. federal courts' rulings and federal laws. At the federal level and in almost every state, a legal system operates on a common law. State courts conduct most criminal trials; federal courts handle certain designated crimes as well as certain appeals from the state criminal courts. Plea bargaining in the United States is very common; the vast majority of criminal cases in the country are settled by plea bargain rather than jury trial.
In 2012 there were 4.7 murders per 100,000 persons in the United States, a 54% decline from the modern peak of 10.2 in 1980. Among developed nations, the United States has above-average levels of violent crime and particularly high levels of gun violence. A cross-sectional analysis of the World Health Organization Mortality Database from 2003 showed that United States "homicide rates were 6.9 times higher than rates in the other high-income countries, driven by firearm homicide rates that were 19.5 times higher." Gun ownership rights continue to be the subject of contentious political debate. The FBI's Uniform Crime Reports estimates that there were 3,246 violent and property crimes per 100,000 residents in 2012, for a total of over 9 million total crimes.
Capital punishment is sanctioned in the United States for certain federal and military crimes, and used in 32 states. No executions took place from 1967 to 1977, owing in part to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down arbitrary imposition of the death penalty. In 1976, that Court ruled that, under appropriate circumstances, capital punishment may constitutionally be imposed. Since the decision there have been more than 1,300 executions, a majority of these taking place in three states: Texas, Virginia, and Oklahoma. Meanwhile, several states have either abolished or struck down death penalty laws. In 2014, the country had the fifth highest number of executions in the world, following China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq.
The United States has the highest documented incarceration rate and total prison population in the world. At the start of 2008, more than 2.3 million people were incarcerated, more than one in every 100 adults. At year end 2012, the combined U.S. adult correctional systems supervised about 6,937,600 offenders. About 1 in every 35 adult residents in the United States was under some form of correctional supervision at yearend 2012, the lowest rate observed since 1997. The prison population has quadrupled since 1980. However, the imprisonment rate for all prisoners
sentenced to more than a year in state or federal facilities is 478 per 100,000 in 2013 and the rate for pre-trial/remand prisoners is 153 per 100,000 residents in 2012. African-American males are jailed at about six times the rate of white males and three times the rate of Hispanic males. The country's high rate of incarceration is largely due to changes in sentencing guidelines and drug policies. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the majority of inmates held in federal prisons are convicted of drug offenses. The privatization of prisons and prison services which began in the 1980s has been a subject of debate. In 2008, Louisiana had the highest incarceration rate, and Maine the lowest. In 2012, Louisiana had the highest rate of murder and non-negligent manslaughter in the U.S., and New Hampshire the lowest.
The United States has a capitalist mixed economy which is fueled by abundant natural resources and high productivity. According to the International Monetary Fund, the U.S. GDP of $16.8 trillion constitutes 24% of the gross world product at market exchange rates and over 19% of the gross world product at purchasing power parity (PPP). Its national GDP was about 5% larger at PPP in 2014 than the European Union's, whose population is around 62% higher. However, the US's nominal GDP is estimated to be $17.528 trillion as of 2014 , which is about 5% smaller than that of the European Union. From 1983 to 2008, U.S. real compounded annual GDP growth was 3.3%, compared to a 2.3% weighted average for the rest of the G7. The country ranks ninth in the world in nominal GDP per capita and sixth in GDP per capita at PPP. The U.S. dollar is the world's primary reserve currency.
The United States is the largest importer of goods and second largest exporter, though exports per capita are relatively low. In 2010, the total U.S. trade deficit was $635 billion. Canada, China, Mexico, Japan, and Germany are its top trading partners. In 2010, oil was the largest import commodity, while transportation equipment was the country's largest export. Japan is the largest foreign holder of U.S. public debt. The largest holder of the U.S. debt are American entities, including federal government accounts and the Federal Reserve, who hold the majority of the debt.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, SIPRI, found that the United States' arms industry was the world's biggest exporter of major weapons from 2005-2009, and remained the largest exporter of major weapons during a period between 2010-2014, followed by Russia, China (PRC), and Germany.
In 2009, the private sector was estimated to constitute 86.4% of the economy, with federal government activity accounting for 4.3% and state and local government activity (including federal transfers) the remaining 9.3%. While its economy has reached a postindustrial level of development and its service sector constitutes 67.8% of GDP, the United States remains an industrial power. The leading business field by gross business receipts is wholesale and retail trade; by net income it is manufacturing. In the franchising business model, McDonald's and Subway are the two most recognized brands in the world. Coca-Cola is the most recognized soft drink company in the world.
Chemical products are the leading manufacturing field. The United States is the largest producer of oil in the world, as well as its second largest importer. It is the world's number one producer of electrical and nuclear energy, as well as liquid natural gas, sulfur, phosphates, and salt. The National Mining Association provides data pertaining to coal and minerals that include beryllium, copper, lead, magnesium, zinc, titanium and others.
Agriculture accounts for just under 1% of GDP, the United States is the world's top producer of corn and soybeans. The National Agricultural Statistics Service maintains agricultural statistics for products that include peanuts, oats, rye, wheat, rice, cotton, corn, barley, hay, sunflowers, and oilseeds. In addition, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides livestock statistics regarding beef, poultry, pork, and dairy products. The country is the primary developer and grower of genetically modified food, representing half of the world's biotech crops.
Consumer spending comprises 68% of the U.S. economy in 2015. In August 2010, the American labor force consisted of 154.1 million people. With 21.2 million people, government is the leading field of employment. The largest private employment sector is health care and social assistance, with 16.4 million people. About 12% of workers are unionized, compared to 30% in Western Europe. The World Bank ranks the United States first in the ease of hiring and firing workers. The United States is ranked among the top three in the Global Competitiveness Report as well. It has a smaller welfare state and redistributes less income through government action than European nations tend to. The United States is the only advanced economy that does not guarantee its workers paid vacation and is one of just a few countries in the world without paid family leave as a legal right, with the others being Papua New Guinea, Suriname and Liberia. However, 74% of full-time American workers get paid sick leave, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, although only 24% of part-time workers get the same benefits. While federal law currently does not require sick leave, it's a common benefit for government workers and full-time employees at corporations. In 2009, the United States had the third highest workforce productivity per person in the world, behind Luxembourg and Norway. It was fourth in productivity per hour, behind those two countries and the Netherlands.
The 2008-2012 global recession had a significant impact on the United States, with output still below potential according to the Congressional Budget Office. It brought high unemployment (which has been decreasing but remains above pre-recession levels), along with low consumer confidence, the continuing decline in home values and increase in foreclosures and personal bankruptcies, an escalating federal debt crisis, inflation, and rising petroleum and food prices. There remains a record proportion of long-term unemployed, continued decreasing household income, and tax and federal budget increases.
Income, poverty and wealth
Americans have the highest average household and employee income among OECD nations, and in 2007 had the second highest median household income. According to the Census Bureau real median household income was $50,502 in 2011, down from $51,144 in 2010. The Global Food Security Index ranked the U.S. number one for food affordability and overall food security in March 2013. Americans on average have over twice as much living space per dwelling and per person as European Union residents, and more than every EU nation. For 2013 the United Nations Development Programme ranked the United States 5th among 187 countries in its Human Development Index and 28th in its inequality-adjusted HDI (IHDI).
There has been a widening gap between productivity and median incomes since the 1970s. While inflation-adjusted ("real") household income had been increasing almost every year from 1947 to 1999, it has since been flat on balance and has even decreased recently. According to Congressional Research Service, during this same period, immigration to the United States increased, while the lower 90% of tax filers incomes became stagnant, and eventually decreasing since 2000. The rise in the share of total annual income received by the top 1 percent, which has more than doubled from 9 percent in 1976 to 20 percent in 2011, has had a significant impact on income inequality, leaving the United States with one of the widest income distributions among OECD nations. The post-recession income gains have been very uneven, with the top 1 percent capturing 95 percent of the income gains from 2009 to 2012. The extent and relevance of income inequality is a matter of debate.
Wealth, like income and taxes, is highly concentrated; the richest 10% of the adult population possess 72% of the country's household wealth, while the bottom half claim only 2%. Between June 2007 and November 2008 the global recession led to falling asset prices around the world. Assets owned by Americans lost about a quarter of their value. Since peaking in the second quarter of 2007, household wealth was down $14 trillion, but has since increased $14 trillion over 2006 levels. At the end of 2008, household debt amounted to $13.8 trillion.
There were about 643,000 sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons in the U.S. in January 2009, with almost two-thirds staying in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program. In 2011 16.7 million children lived in food-insecure households, about 35% more than 2007 levels, though only 1.1% of U.S. children, or 845,000, saw reduced food intake or disrupted eating patterns at some point during the year, and most cases were not chronic. According to a 2014 report by the Census Bureau, one in five young adults lives in poverty today, up from one in seven in 1980.
American public education is operated by state and local governments, regulated by the United States Department of Education through restrictions on federal grants. In most states, children are required to attend school from the age of six or seven (generally, kindergarten or first grade) until they turn 18 (generally bringing them through twelfth grade, the end of high school); some states allow students to leave school at 16 or 17. About 12% of children are enrolled in parochial or nonsectarian private schools. Just over 2% of children are homeschooled. The U.S. spends more on education per student than any nation in the world, spending more than $11,000 per elementary student in 2010 and more than $12,000 per high school student. Some 80% of U.S. college students attend public universities.
The United States has many competitive private and public institutions of higher education. The majority of world's top universities listed by different ranking organizations are located in the US. There are also local community colleges with generally more open admission policies, shorter academic programs, and lower tuition. Of Americans 25 and older, 84.6% graduated from high school, 52.6% attended some college, 27.2% earned a bachelor's degree, and 9.6% earned graduate degrees. The basic literacy rate is approximately 99%. The United Nations assigns the United States an Education Index of 0.97, tying it for 12th in the world.
As for public expenditures on higher education, the U.S. trails some other OECD nations but spends more per student than the OECD average, and more than all nations in combined public and private spending. As of 2012 , student loan debt exceeded one trillion dollars, more than Americans owe on credit cards.
The United States is home to many cultures and a wide variety of ethnic groups, traditions, and values. Aside from the Native American, Native Hawaiian and Native Alaskan populations, nearly all Americans or their ancestors settled or immigrated within the past five centuries. Mainstream American culture is a Western culture largely derived from the traditions of European immigrants with influences from many other sources, such as traditions brought by slaves from Africa. More recent immigration from Asia and especially Latin America has added to a cultural mix that has been described as both a homogenizing melting pot, and a heterogeneous salad bowl in which immigrants and their descendants retain distinctive cultural characteristics.
Core American culture was established by Protestant British colonists and shaped by the frontier settlement process, with the traits derived passed down to descendants and transmitted to immigrants through assimilation. Americans have traditionally been characterized by a strong work ethic, competitiveness, and individualism, as well as a unifying belief in an "American creed" emphasizing liberty, equality, private property, democracy, rule of law, and a preference for limited government. Americans are extremely charitable by global standards. According to a 2006 British study, Americans gave 1.67% of GDP to charity, more than any other nation studied, more than twice the second place British figure of 0.73%, and around twelve times the French figure of 0.14%.
The American Dream, or the perception that Americans enjoy high social mobility, plays a key role in attracting immigrants. Whether this perception is realistic has been a topic of debate. While mainstream culture holds that the United States is a classless society, scholars identify significant differences between the country's social classes, affecting socialization, language, and values. Americans' self-images, social viewpoints, and cultural expectations are associated with their occupations to an unusually close degree. While Americans tend greatly to value socioeconomic achievement, being ordinary or average is generally seen as a positive attribute.
Mainstream American cuisine is similar to that in other Western countries. Wheat is the primary cereal grain with about three-quarters of grain products made of wheat flour and many dishes use indigenous ingredients, such as turkey, venison, potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, squash, and maple syrup which were consumed by Native Americans and early European settlers. These home grown foods are part of a shared national menu on one of America's most popular holidays; Thanksgiving, when some Americans make traditional foods to celebrate the occasion.
Characteristic dishes such as apple pie, fried chicken, pizza, hamburgers, and hot dogs derive from the recipes of various immigrants. French fries, Mexican dishes such as burritos and tacos, and pasta dishes freely adapted from Italian sources are widely consumed. Americans generally prefer coffee to tea. Marketing by U.S. industries is largely responsible for making orange juice and milk ubiquitous breakfast beverages.
American eating habits owe a great deal to that of their British culinary roots with some variations. Even though American lands could grow newer vegetables England could not, most colonist would not eat these new foods until accepted by Europeans. Over time American foods changed to a point that food critic, John L. Hess stated in 1972: "Our founding fathers were as far superior to our present political leaders in the quality of their food as they were in the quality of their prose and intelligence".
The American fast food industry, the world's largest, pioneered the drive-through format in the 1940s. Fast food consumption has sparked health concerns. During the 1980s and 1990s, Americans' caloric intake rose 24%; frequent dining at fast food outlets is associated with what public health officials call the American "obesity epidemic". Highly sweetened soft drinks are widely popular, and sugared beverages account for nine percent of American caloric intake.
Literature, philosophy, and the arts
In the 18th and early 19th centuries, American art and literature took most of its cues from Europe. Writers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, and Henry David Thoreau established a distinctive American literary voice by the middle of the 19th century. Mark Twain and poet Walt Whitman were major figures in the century's second half; Emily Dickinson, virtually unknown during her lifetime, is now recognized as an essential American poet. A work seen as capturing fundamental aspects of the national experience and character—such as Herman Melville's Moby-Dick (1851), Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), and F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (1925)—may be dubbed the "Great American Novel".
Eleven U.S. citizens have won the Nobel Prize in Literature, most recently Toni Morrison in 1993. William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway are often named among the most influential writers of the 20th century. Popular literary genres such as the Western and hardboiled crime fiction developed in the United States. The Beat Generation writers opened up new literary approaches, as have postmodernist authors such as John Barth, Thomas Pynchon, and Don DeLillo.
The transcendentalists, led by Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, established the first major American philosophical movement. After the Civil War, Charles Sanders Peirce and then William James and John Dewey were leaders in the development of pragmatism. In the 20th century, the work of W. V. O. Quine and Richard Rorty, and later Noam Chomsky, brought analytic philosophy to the fore of American philosophical academia. John Rawls and Robert Nozick led a revival of political philosophy. Cornel West and Judith Butler have led a continental tradition in American philosophical academia. Globally influential Chicago school economists like Milton Friedman, James M. Buchanan, and Thomas Sowell have transcended discipline to impact various fields in social and political philosophy.
In the visual arts, the Hudson River School was a mid-19th-century movement in the tradition of European naturalism. The realist paintings of Thomas Eakins are now widely celebrated. The 1913 Armory Show in New York City, an exhibition of European modernist art, shocked the public and transformed the U.S. art scene. Georgia O'Keeffe, Marsden Hartley, and others experimented with new, individualistic styles. Major artistic movements such as the abstract expressionism of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning and the pop art of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein developed largely in the United States. The tide of modernism and then postmodernism has brought fame to American architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Philip Johnson, and Frank Gehry.
One of the first major promoters of American theater was impresario P. T. Barnum, who began operating a lower Manhattan entertainment complex in 1841. The team of Harrigan and Hart produced a series of popular musical comedies in New York starting in the late 1870s. In the 20th century, the modern musical form emerged on Broadway; the songs of musical theater composers such as Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, and Stephen Sondheim have become pop standards. Playwright Eugene O'Neill won the Nobel literature prize in 1936; other acclaimed U.S. dramatists include multiple Pulitzer Prize winners Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, and August Wilson.
Though little known at the time, Charles Ives's work of the 1910s established him as the first major U.S. composer in the classical tradition, while experimentalists such as Henry Cowell and John Cage created a distinctive American approach to classical composition. Aaron Copland and George Gershwin developed a new synthesis of popular and classical music. Choreographers Isadora Duncan and Martha Graham helped create modern dance, while George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins were leaders in 20th-century ballet. Americans have long been important in the modern artistic medium of photography, with major photographers including Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, and Ansel Adams.
The rhythmic and lyrical styles of African-American music have deeply influenced American music at large, distinguishing it from European traditions. Elements from folk idioms such as the blues and what is now known as old-time music were adopted and transformed into popular genres with global audiences. Jazz was developed by innovators such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington early in the 20th century. Country music developed in the 1920s, and rhythm and blues in the 1940s.
Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry were among the mid-1950s pioneers of rock and roll. In the 1960s, Bob Dylan emerged from the folk revival to become one of America's most celebrated songwriters and James Brown led the development of funk. More recent American creations include hip hop and house music. American pop stars such as Presley, Michael Jackson, and Madonna have become global celebrities, as have contemporary musical artists such as Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Rihanna, and Beyoncé.
Hollywood, a northern district of Los Angeles, California, is one of the leaders in motion picture production. The world's first commercial motion picture exhibition was given in New York City in 1894, using Thomas Edison's Kinetoscope. The next year saw the first commercial screening of a projected film, also in New York, and the United States was in the forefront of sound film's development in the following decades. Since the early 20th century, the U.S. film industry has largely been based in and around Hollywood, although in the 21st century an increasing number of films are not made there, and film companies have been subject to the forces of globalization.
Director D. W. Griffith, American's top filmmaker during the silent film period, was central to the development of film grammar, and producer/entrepreneur Walt Disney was a leader in both animated film and movie merchandising. Directors such as John Ford redefined the image of the American Old West and history, and, like others such as John Huston, broadened the possibilities of cinema with location shooting, with great influence on subsequent directors. The industry enjoyed its golden years, in what is commonly referred to as the "Golden Age of Hollywood", from the early sound period until the early 1960s, with screen actors such as John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe becoming iconic figures. In the 1970s, film directors such as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Robert Altman were a vital component in what became known as "New Hollywood" or the "Hollywood Renaissance", grittier films influenced by French and Italian realist pictures of the post-war period. Since, directors such as Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and James Cameron have gained renown for their blockbuster films, often characterized by high production costs, and in return, high earnings at the box office, with Cameron's Avatar (2009) earning more than $2 billion. Notable films topping the American Film Institute's AFI 100 list include Orson Welles's Citizen Kane (1941), which is frequently cited as the greatest film of all time, Casablanca (1942), The Godfather (1972), Gone with the Wind (1939), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), The Wizard of Oz (1939), The Graduate (1967), On the Waterfront (1954), Schindler's List (1993), Singin' in the Rain (1952), It's a Wonderful Life (1946) and Sunset Boulevard (1950). The Academy Awards, popularly known as the Oscars, have been held annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences since 1929, and the Golden Globe Awards have been held annually since January 1944.
While most major U.S. sports have evolved out of European practices, basketball, volleyball, skateboarding, and snowboarding are American inventions, some of which have become popular in other countries. Lacrosse and surfing arose from Native American and Native Hawaiian activities that predate Western contact. The Iroquois field their own separate national team, the Iroquois Nationals, in recognition of the confederacy's creation of lacrosse. Eight Olympic Games have taken place in the United States. The United States has won 2,400 medals at the Summer Olympic Games, more than any other country, and 281 in the Winter Olympic Games, the second most behind Norway.
The market for professional sports in the United States is roughly $69 billion, roughly 50% larger than that of all of Europe, the Middle East, and Africa combined. Baseball has been regarded as the national sport since the late 19th century, with Major League Baseball (MLB) being the top league, while American football is now by several measures the most popular spectator sport, with the National Football League (NFL) having the highest average attendance of any sports league in the world and a Super Bowl watched by millions globally. Basketball and ice hockey are the country's next two leading professional team sports, with the top leagues being the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the National Hockey League (NHL). These four major sports, when played professionally, each occupy a season at different, but overlapping, times of the year. College football and basketball attract large audiences. Boxing and horse racing were once the most watched individual sports, but they have been eclipsed by golf and auto racing, particularly NASCAR. In the 21st century, televised mixed martial arts has also gained a strong following of regular viewers. While soccer is less popular in the United States than in many other nations, the country hosted the 1994 FIFA World Cup, the men's national soccer team has been to the past six World Cups and the women are first in the women's world rankings.
Personal transportation is dominated by automobiles, which operate on a network of 4 million miles of public roads, including one of the world's longest highway systems. The world's second largest automobile market, the United States has the highest rate of per-capita vehicle ownership in the world, with 765 vehicles per 1,000 Americans. About 40% of personal vehicles are vans, SUVs, or light trucks. The average American adult (accounting for all drivers and non-drivers) spends 55 minutes driving every day, traveling Script error: No such module "convert"..
Mass transit accounts for 9% of total U.S. work trips. Transport of goods by rail is extensive, though relatively low numbers of passengers (approximately 31 million annually) use rail to travel, due in-part to the low population density throughout much of the U.S. interior.  However, ridership on Amtrak, the national intercity passenger rail system, grew by almost 37% between 2000 and 2010. Also, light rail development has increased in recent years. Bicycle usage for work commutes is minimal.
The civil airline industry is entirely privately owned and has been largely deregulated since 1978, while
most major airports are publicly owned. The three largest airlines in the world by passengers carried are U.S.-based; American Airlines is number one after its 2013 acquisition by US Airways. Of the world's 30 busiest passenger airports, 12 are in the United States, including the busiest, Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
The United States energy market is about 29,000 terawatt hours per year. Energy consumption per capita is 7.8 tons of oil equivalent per year, the 10th highest rate in the world. In 2005, 40% of this energy came from petroleum, 23% from coal, and 22% from natural gas. The remainder was supplied by nuclear power and renewable energy sources. The United States is the world's largest consumer of petroleum.
For decades, nuclear power has played a limited role relative to many other developed countries, in part because of public perception in the wake of a 1979 accident. In 2007, several applications for new nuclear plants were filed. The United States has 27% of global coal reserves. It is the world's largest producer of natural gas and crude oil.
Science and technology
The United States has been a leader in scientific research and technological innovation since the late 19th century. In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell was awarded the first U.S. patent for the telephone. Thomas Edison's research laboratory, one of the first of its kind, developed the phonograph, the first long-lasting light bulb, and the first viable movie camera. The latter lead to emergence of the worldwide entertainment industry. In the early 20th century, the automobile companies of Ransom E. Olds and Henry Ford popularized the assembly line. The Wright brothers, in 1903, made the first sustained and controlled heavier-than-air powered flight.
The rise of Nazism in the 1930s led many European scientists, including Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi, and John von Neumann, to immigrate to the United States. During World War II, the Manhattan Project developed nuclear weapons, ushering in the Atomic Age, while the Space Race produced rapid advances in rocketry, materials science, and aeronautics.
The invention of the transistor in the 1950s, a key active component in practically all modern electronics, led to many technological developments and a significant expansion of the U.S. technology industry. This in turn lead to the establishment of many new technology companies and regions around the county such as Silicon Valley in California. Advancements by American microprocessor companies such as Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), and Intel along with both computer software and hardware companies that include Adobe Systems, Apple Computer, IBM, GNU-Linux, Microsoft, and Sun Microsystems created and popularized the personal computer. The ARPANET was developed in the 1960s to meet Defense Department requirements, and became the first of a series of networks which evolved into the Internet.
These advancements then lead to greater personalization of technology for individual use. As of April 2010 , 77% of American households owned at least one computer, and 68% had broadband Internet service. 85% of Americans also own a mobile phone as of 2011 . The United States ranks highly with regard to freedom of use of the internet.
In the 21st century, 64% of research and development funding comes from the private sector. The United States leads the world in scientific research papers and impact factor.
The United States has a life expectancy of 79.8 years at birth, up from 75.2 years in 1990. Increasing obesity in the United States and health improvements elsewhere have contributed to lowering the country's rank in life expectancy from 1987, when it was 11th in the world. Obesity rates in the United States are among the highest in the world. Approximately one-third of the adult population is obese and an additional third is overweight; the obesity rate, the highest in the industrialized world, has more than doubled in the last quarter-century. Obesity-related type 2 diabetes is considered epidemic by health care professionals. The infant mortality rate of 6.17 per thousand places the United States 169th highest out of 224 countries, with the 224th country having the lowest mortality rate.
In 2010, coronary artery disease, lung cancer, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, and traffic accidents caused the most years of life lost in the U.S. Low back pain, depression, musculoskeletal disorders, neck pain, and anxiety caused the most years lost to disability. The most deleterious risk factors were poor diet, tobacco smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, physical inactivity, and alcohol use. Alzheimer's disease, drug abuse, kidney disease and cancer, and falls caused the most additional years of life lost over their age-adjusted 1990 per-capita rates. U.S. teenage pregnancy and abortion rates are substantially higher than in other Western nations, especially among blacks and Hispanics. U.S. underage drinking among teenagers is among the lowest in industrialized nations.
The U.S. is a global leader in medical innovation. America solely developed or contributed significantly to 9 of the top 10 most important medical innovations since 1975 as ranked by a 2001 poll of physicians, while the EU and Switzerland together contributed to five. Since 1966, more Americans have received the Nobel Prize in Medicine than the rest of the world combined. From 1989 to 2002, four times more money was invested in private biotechnology companies in America than in Europe. The U.S. health-care system far outspends any other nation, measured in both per capita spending and percentage of GDP. Health-care coverage in the United States is a combination of public and private efforts and is not universal. In 2014, 13.4% of the population did not carry health insurance. The subject of uninsured and underinsured Americans is a major political issue. In 2006, Massachusetts became the first state to mandate universal health insurance. Federal legislation passed in early 2010 would ostensibly create a near-universal health insurance system around the country by 2014, though the bill and its ultimate impact are issues of controversy.
The four major broadcasters in the U.S. are the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) and Fox.
Americans are the heaviest television viewers in the world, and the average viewing time continues to rise, reaching five hours a day in 2006. The four major broadcast television networks are all commercial entities. Americans listen to radio programming, also largely commercial, on average just over two-and-a-half hours a day.
In 1998, the number of U.S. commercial radio stations had grown to 4,793 AM stations and 5,662 FM stations. In addition, there are 1,460 public radio stations. Most of these stations are run by universities and public authorities for educational purposes and are financed by public or private funds, subscriptions and corporate underwriting. Much public-radio broadcasting is supplied by NPR (formerly National Public Radio). NPR was incorporated in February 1970 under the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967; its television counterpart, PBS, was also created by the same legislation. (NPR and PBS are operated separately from each other.) As of September 30, 2014 , there are 15,433 licensed full-power radio stations in the US according to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Well-known newspapers are The New York Times, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal. Although the cost of publishing has increased over the years, the price of newspapers has generally remained low, forcing newspapers to rely more on advertising revenue and on articles provided by a major wire service, such as the Associated Press or Reuters, for their national and world coverage. With very few exceptions, all the newspapers in the U.S. are privately owned, either by large chains such as Gannett or McClatchy, which own dozens or even hundreds of newspapers; by small chains that own a handful of papers; or in a situation that is increasingly rare, by individuals or families. Major cities often have "alternative weeklies" to complement the mainstream daily papers, for example, New York City's The Village Voice or Los Angeles' LA Weekly, to name two of the best-known. Major cities may also support a local business journal, trade papers relating to local industries, and papers for local ethnic and social groups. Early versions of the American newspaper comic strip and the American comic book began appearing in the 19th century. In 1938, Superman, the comic book superhero of DC Comics, developed into an American icon. Aside from web portals and search engines, the most popular websites are Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia, Amazon, eBay, and Twitter.
In Spanish, the second most widely spoken mother tongue behind English, more than 800 publications are published.
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The composition by John Philip Sousa entitled 'The Stars and Stripes Forever' is the national march.
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He did a search of the archives and found the letter on the front page of the April 6, 1776, edition, published by Hunter & Dixon.
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