Half the U.S. population lives in 146 counties

Some time ago I came across a map showing that half the world’s population lived in the densely-populated parts of China and India and a couple of the adjoining countries.

The other day I came across an article about how half the U.S. population lives in just 146 of the nation’s more than 3,000 counties and county-equivalents.  The 146 counties are shown on the map below.  My home county, Monroe County, New York, is one of the 146.

map of us 50 percent

Compiling a list of America’s counties is more complicated than I would have thought.

The United States has 3,007 counties, but not every American lives in a county.

Louisiana is divided into 64 parishes, which are the equivalent of counties.

Alaska's unorganized borough

Alaska’s unorganized borough

Alaska, when it was admitted as a state, had no county governments at all.  Instead Alaskans have the right to form governmental units called boroughs.  There are 19 boroughs in Alaska, but half the area of the state is an unorganized borough, covering 11 census areas.

There are 41 independent American cities, not part of any county, in Maryland, Missouri, Nevada and Virginia.  And there also is the District of Columbia.

Counting all these the United States has 3,143 counties and county-equivalents.

There are two county-equivalents on the list of 146—Baltimore City and Washington, D.C.

The problem with this is that those of us who live in densely-populated places have interests that are different those who are more spread out, and yet we don’t get equal representation.

Representation in the U.S. Senate is based on geography, not population, and representation in the U.S. Electoral College is based partly on geography.  But thanks to the Supreme Court’s “one man, one vote” decision in 1962, state legislative districts are equal in population.

But that’s an argument for another time.  I just think it is interesting how concentrated the American population is.


Half of the United States Lives in These Counties by Walter Hickey and Joe Weisenthal for Business Insider.  Click on this link for a list of the 146 counties and county-equivalents.


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2 Responses to “Half the U.S. population lives in 146 counties”

  1. williambearcat Says:

    Very interesting. When I visit my son in Vermont I am reminded that the whole state has fewer people than Monroe County where I live. I would also note in regard to counties, Burroughs Parishes and other names, when we first visited Rochester i was surprised to see town government signs in front of lots of vacant land. I subsequently learned that towns in New York were called townships in Indiana. Few of us if any, identified with the township in which we lived.,


  2. philebersole Says:

    Townships are an invention of the pioneer settlers of New England, who wanted a kind of government that was close enough to the people that all interested citizens could participate in a town meeting.

    As New England Yankee settlers went west, they spread township and town governments across the northern tier of the United States. That wasn’t enough, alas, to sustain town-meeting democracy.


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