County (United States)

In the United States a county is an administrative or political subdivision of a state that consists of a geographic region with specific boundaries and usually some level of governmental authority.[3] The term "county" is used in 48 U.S. states, while Louisiana and Alaska have functionally equivalent subdivisions called parishes and boroughs, respectively.[3]

CategorySecond-level administrative division
LocationStates, federal district and territories of the United States of America
Found inState
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—10,039,107 (2019)
Least: Kalawao County, Hawaii—86 (2019)
8 entities[lower-alpha 1] (county equivalents)—0 (2019)
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)

The specific governmental powers of counties vary widely between the states. Counties have significant functions in all states except Rhode Island and Connecticut, where county governments have been abolished but the entities remain for administrative or statistical purposes. Massachusetts has removed most government functions from eight of its 14 counties, while Alaska's 323,440-square-mile (837,700 km2) Unorganized Borough never had any borough-level governmental function. Most counties have subdivisions which may include townships, municipalities and unincorporated areas. Others have no further divisions, or may serve as a consolidated city-county where a city and a county have been merged into a unified jurisdiction. Some municipalities are in multiple counties; New York City is uniquely partitioned into five counties, referred to at the city government level as boroughs. 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 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 is concentrated in just 143 of the more than 3,000 counties, or just 4.6% of all counties; the five largest counties ordered by population are Los Angeles County, California; Cook County, Illinois; Harris County, Texas; Maricopa County, Arizona; and San Diego County, California.[4]

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.

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.[5][6] 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.[6]

As of 2020, there are currently 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][5][6][lower-alpha 2] The county with the largest population, Los Angeles County (10,039,107),[10] 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 County).