County (United States)

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USA map with county borders

A County ( the or the County, German  County district / , plural : English counties , German  counties ) in 48 of the 50 states of the United States , a regional management unit ( local authority ), which is about the German district and the Austrian or Swiss Cantons is comparable. Instead, Louisiana is divided into Parishes and Alaska into Boroughs and Census Areas . The word county translates to county ; the name was brought to North America by the British, but there were never counts who received a county as a feudal fief. According to the US Census Bureau, there are 3,144 counties or comparable units in the US.


The counties serve as the middle administrative level between the states and the individual towns. Since the legal regulations governing the organization of a county come from the law of the respective state, they vary considerably from state to state and sometimes even within the same state.

The city where the county’s administration and courts are located is called the County Seat . Usually there is an elected body which, depending on the state, has different names such as county commission , board of supervisors , county council or board of chosen freeholders . Executive power rests with an elected or appointed county executive , county administrator, or county manager . Police powers within a county often lie with the sheriff , who is usually directly elected.

Within a county, individual settlements can develop over time and thus form their own regional authority below the county. Which subdivisions are possible depends on the law of the respective federal state. Here, too, the regulations differ significantly. In most states there are citys and / or Towns (cities), and in some cases Villages (villages). Others know townships , precincts or districts. Most states use minimum population numbers as criteria.

Districts , Census County Divisions or Census-designated places are not legally independent subdivisions .

Counties have the ability to set sales tax rates in some states . You can also determine which regulations apply to alcohol ( Dry County ). In addition, the specific tax lien regulation is incumbent on each county and can therefore be very different.

Equivalent units

The disorganized district in Alaska

In addition to the counties that exist in 48 of the 50 states, there are still some units that are comparable to counties. Louisiana is divided into 64 parishes (German originally parishes ) instead of counties , in Alaska there are 19 boroughs ( districts ) that have their own organization. A 20th District, the Unorganized Borough ( unorganized district ), is not a separate organization. It makes up most of the area of ​​Alaska (the size of Germany and France combined), but is only inhabited by a minimal part of the population. The area is used by the US Census Bureau (not from the state of Alaska) in ten census tract ( survey areas classified) (Alaska is so therefore counted from 29 units consisting countyähnlichen).

42 independent cities ( independent cities ) ( Baltimore , St. Louis , Carson City , and 39 cities in Virginia ) are similar to a county.

There are also several consolidated city counties , with the respective city and county governments being united (including San Francisco, Honolulu, Denver, Los Alamos, Nantucket, etc.).


The US Census Bureau counts 3142 counties and comparable units, the average number per state is 63. Texas has the most counties of all states with 254 and Delaware with 3 the fewest; however, the District of Columbia - which is counted as a separate county or so-called county equivalent - only comes to the number of 1.

In 2000 a county had an average area of ​​1,611 km², which is about 1.5 times the size of a German county or an English county or a quarter of the area of ​​a French department .

The size of the counties varies between the individual states, with counties in the western United States being significantly larger than in the east. For example, a county in Ohio is 1203 km² on average and in Georgia 937 km², while in western states like California (6956 km²) and Utah (7338 km²) they are significantly larger.

The largest county in terms of area is the North Slope Borough in Alaska . It comes to 245,435 km² (more than two thirds of the area of Germany ). The smallest is New York County (only includes Manhattan ) with 87.5 km². In the 48 core states, San Bernardino County in California is the largest with an area of ​​52,073 km² (larger than Lower Saxony ). If the independent cities are taken into account, Falls Church is the smallest administrative unit with county responsibilities at 5.0 km².

A county has an average population of about 100,000 inhabitants, the median according to the population census in 2000 of 24,544 inhabitants. In 2000, only 16.1% of the counties had a population of more than 100,000.

With a population of 9.82 million, Los Angeles County is the largest in California , the smallest is Loving County in Texas with 82 inhabitants (as of 2010).


  • The five boroughs of New York City are also counties of New York State. However, they have no administrative tasks, these are carried out by the city. In three cases the names differ: Manhattan is called New York County as a county of the state of New York , Brooklyn is called Kings County and Staten Island is called Richmond County .
  • In 1960, Connecticut county governments were abolished and counties were only used for geographic purposes. They no longer have any administrative duties in Rhode Island either.
  • Massachusetts also abolished county governments in eight of the 14 counties in 1999.

See also


  • Charles Curry Aiken, Joseph Nathan Kane: The American Counties: Origins of County Names, Dates of Creation, Area, and Population Data, 1950-2010. 6th edition. Scarecrow Press, Lanham 2012, ISBN 978-0-8108-8761-9 .

Individual evidence

  1. FIPS 6-4 Lookup - Download ( Memento of March 17, 2008 in the Internet Archive )
  2. United States Census Bureau: Los Angeles County, California
  3. United States Census Bureau: Loving County, Texas