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JULY 1994



A. Population

When the most recent national census was completed 
in 1990, the population of the United States of 
America had reached 248,709,873.  The Census Bureau 
estimates current population to be 258,745,000 as of 
September 1, 1993, and increasing by some 3 million 
persons per year.  By the year 2000, U.S. population 
is expected to be 276,241,000.  In recent years, the 
population has shifted from the Northeast and 
Midwest to the South and West.  Since 1960, the 
population in both the Northeast and Midwest has 
decreased approximately five percent and increased 
approximately five percent in the South and West.

Females outnumber males, comprising 51.2 percent of 
the population.  The median age of all people is 
32.9, with 22 percent under the age of 15 and 12.4 
percent over the age of 65.

The United States is home to a wide variety of 
ethnic and racial groups; indeed, virtually every 
national, racial, ethnic, cultural and religious 
group in the world is represented in its population.  
Overall, 80 percent of all people are white.  Among 
the minority groups, 12 percent are African 
Americans, 9 percent are of Hispanic origin, 3 
percent are of Asian or Pacific Island origin, and 
less than 1 percent are Native Americans.

Historically, the United States has been a nation of 
immigrants.  According to the 1990 Census, nearly 20 
million people (or more than 12 percent of the 
population) were not born in the United States but 
call it home.  In 1992, 973,977 aliens were granted 
lawful permanent resident status.  This figure was 
inflated as a result of the Immigration Reform and 
Control Act of 1986 (IRCA), which provided a one-
time opportunity for significant numbers of long-
term illegal residents and special agricultural 
workers to gain permanent residence status.  The 
primary countries of origin for legal immigrants 
were Mexico, Vietnam, the Philippines, and the 
countries formerly constituting the Soviet Union.  
The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) 
estimates that another 300,000 people immigrated 
illegally.  A recent INS analysis indicated that as 
many as  3.2 million people now reside illegally in 
the United States; approximately 40 percent (1.3 
million) live in California and 15 percent (485,000) 
live in New York.  Although the IRCA provided legal 
status to many Mexicans living in the United States, 
approximately 30 percent of illegal aliens are 
Mexican.  Another 9 percent are from El Salvador and 
4 percent from Guatemala.  In total, the INS 
indicates that illegal immigrants constitute about 
1.3 percent of the U.S. population.

About three-quarters of all people in the United 
States live in urban areas, with "urban" defined as 
2500 or more residents in an area incorporated as a 
city, village, or town.  While almost 30 percent of 
all whites reside in rural areas, minorities reside 
predominantly in urban areas (87.2 percent of all 
African Americans, 95 percent of all Asians, 91 
percent of all Hispanics).

English is the predominant language of the United 
States.  However, of approximately 230 million 
people over the age of 5, some 32 million 
(approximately 14 percent) speak a language other 
than English.  Seventeen million people speak 
Spanish; 4.5 million speak an Asian or Pacific 
Island language.  French, German and Italian are 
among the next most common.  Fourteen million people 
indicate they do not speak English "very well."  The 
highest percentages of non-English speakers are 
found in the states of New Mexico, California, 
Texas, Hawaii and New York.

B. Vital Statistics

According to 1989 figures, overall life expectancy 
in the United States was 75.3 years.  Women tend to 
live longer than men, with a life expectancy of 78.8 
years, compared to 71.8 years for men.  Whites have 
a longer life expectancy than minorities.  For 
example, the life expectancy for whites is 76 years, 
but for African Americans it is only 69.2, and only 
64.8 for African-American men.  However, studies 
show these figures to be improving for all racial 
groups.  Preliminary 1990 figures show the life 
expectancy for all of the United States to be 75.4, 
76 for whites, and 70.3 for African Americans.

The total fertility rate for the United States, 
according to 1991 figures, was 2073 births per 1000 
women aged 10-49.  In other words, women in the U.S. 
on average have 2.1 births over the course of their 
child-bearing years.  This is statistically 
equivalent to the replacement level of 2.0.  Once 
again, there is significant disparity between racial 
groups: the white fertility rate is 1885, with the 
rate decreasing, but the African-American fertility 
rate is 2583, with the rate increasing.  Overall, 
nearly 30 percent of all births in the United States 
are currently to unmarried women.

The overall mortality rate in 1992 was 853.3 per 
100,000, slightly lower than the previous year.  The 
infant mortality rate was 9.8 deaths per 1000 live 
births.  However, there is a significant disparity 
between the rates for African American and whites.  
For example, the rate for whites was 8.2 per 1000, 
but the rate for African Americans was more than 
double that, at 17.7.  Lack of adequate prenatal 
care, socio-economic conditions, drug and alcohol 
abuse, and lack of education are cited as factors 
contributing to the difference.  A similar pattern 
exists for the maternal mortality rate:  the overall 
rate was 7.9 maternal deaths per 1000 births, but 
the rate for whites was 5.6, compared to the 18.4 
rate for African Americans.

There are 95.7 million households in the United 
States, of which 70 percent contain families.  
However, married couples with children make up only 
26 percent of all households.  In recent years, 
owing to the increasing acceptance of divorce and 
single-parenthood, more children are living with 
only one parent.  Among all children under age 
eighteen, 27 percent lived with a single parent in 
1992, more than double the 12 percent of children 
who lived with only one parent in 1970.  Most 
children who live with one parent live with their 
mother.  For instance, in 1992 approximately 88 
percent of children who lived with one parent lived 
with their mother.  The proportion of children 
living with one parent varies according to race.  
Among children under eighteen, 21 percent of white 
children lived with one parent, whereas 57 percent 
of African-American children and 32 percent of 
Hispanic children lived with one parent.  Children 
in every group were far more likely to live with 
their mother than their father.  Among children 
living with their mother or father only, 84 percent 
of white children, 94 percent of African-American 
children, and 89 percent of Hispanic children lived 
with their mother. In total, approximately three 
percent of children under eighteen live with a 
relative other than their parents or with a 
nonrelative.  While similar data is not available 
for Asians, in 1992 approximately 15 percent of 
Asian family households were headed by women.

In 1992, it was estimated that there were 2.3 
million marriages and 1.2 million divorces in the 
United States, in both cases slightly fewer than in 
the preceding year. 

C. Socio-Economic Indicators

For the first quarter of 1993, the per capita income 
in the United States was $23,987 in current dollars.  
In mean money earnings, males earned $34,886 
compared to $22,768 for females in 1990.  The gross 
domestic product (GDP) in billions of current 
dollars was 6038.5 for 1992 and 6327.6 for the 
second quarter of 1993.  The Consumer Price Index, 
frequently used to measure inflation, has decreased 
steadily since 1989 from 5.4 percent for 1989-1990 
to 2.8 percent for the period August 1992 to August 

In 1992, 67 percent of the population 16 years and 
older (totalling 117.598 million) was in the 
workforce, including 16.8 million working mothers. 
The overall unemployment rate was 7.4 percent.  For 
men, the figure was 7.8 percent, compared with 6.9 
percent for women.  Whites' rate of unemployment was 
6.5 percent, African-Americans' rate was 14.1 
percent, and Hispanics' rate was 11.4 percent.  The 
minimum wage in 1992 was $4.25 an hour.  Women and 
minorities continue to be over-represented in low-
paying jobs.

In 1992, 14.5 percent of the population was below 
the poverty level, the federally established figure 
below which a person is considered to have 
insufficient income for his or her basic needs.  For 
a household of four in 1992, this was equal to 
$14,335.  Of all households headed by females, 34.9 
percent were below the poverty level.  The poverty 
rates for white, African American, and Hispanic 
households headed by women were, respectively, 28.1 
percent, 49.8 percent, and 48.8 percent.  Among 
children, 21.9 percent lived below the poverty line, 
including one in four children under six years old.  

The rate of poverty varies significantly among 
racial groups in the United States.  While 11.6 
percent of whites (9.6 percent when Hispanics are 
not included) are below the poverty line, 33.3 
percent of African Americans, 29.3 percent of 
Hispanics, and 12.5 percent of Asian/Pacific 
Islanders fall below the poverty level.  Among the 
poor in 1992, 73.2 percent received some form of 
federal welfare assistance.  Assistance may include 
cash as well as noncash benefits.  In 1992, 42.7 
percent of the poor received means-tested cash 
assistance.  In 1989, the United States spent $956 
billion on social welfare expenditures for an 
average of $3,783 per person in current 1989 

According to the 1990 Census, 78.4 percent of the 
population had four years or more of high school 
education, 39.8 percent had one or more years of 
college, and 21.4 percent had four or more years of 
college.  Males and females achieved similar levels 
of education, the primary difference being that 24.3 
percent of males versus 18.8 percent of females 
received four or more years of college.  Educational 
levels differed more widely, however, on the basis 
of race.  Rates for high school and four or more 
years of college were 79.9 percent and 22.2 percent 
for whites versus 66.7 percent and 11.5 percent for 
African Americans, and 51.3 percent and 9.7 percent 
for Hispanics.  In 1992, 63 percent of the most 
recent graduates of high school had enrolled in 
colleges and universities.

Approximately four-fifths of all American women have 
completed high school.  Additionally, women 
constitute 54 percent of the students in 
undergraduate, graduate, and professional degree 
programs.  More specifically, 55 percent of 
undergraduate students are women, 53 percent of 
graduate students are women, and 39 percent of 
professional degree students are women.

The last nationwide studies of the literacy rate 
were in 1982 and 1986.  According to the 1982 study, 
adults in the U.S. over the age of 20 had a 13 
percent illiteracy rate.  The 1986 study concerned 
young adults between the ages of 20 and 24, measured 
by standards of 4th, 8th, and 11th grade reading 
levels.  The results showed that 6 percent were 
illiterate at a 4th grade level, 20.2 percent were 
illiterate at an 8th grade level, and 38.5 percent 
were illiterate at an 11th grade level.

However, the methodology on which these studies were 
based has proven inadequate to indicate how well the 
tested individuals can actually use their reading 
and writing skills.  Accordingly, the U.S. 
Department of Education has recently developed a new 
method for evaluating functional literacy by testing 
prose, document and quantitative literacy.  In a 
study of 26,000 individuals conducted in conjunction 
with authorities in 12 states, almost half of the 
participants scored in the lowest of five levels in 
each of the three literacy categories.  Less than 
five percent of participants scored in the highest 
skill levels.  The survey found that older adults, 
who have typically completed the fewest years of 
schooling, demonstrated lower literacy skills than 
other age groups.  Among participants scoring in the 
lowest skill levels, 62 percent had not completed 
high school and 35 percent had 8 or fewer years of 
formal schooling; 25 percent were born in another 
country; and 26 percent had some physical or mental 
condition that prevented them from fully working.  
Almost half of these participants lived in poverty.  
Adults in prison were disproportionately likely to 
perform in the lowest two levels of literacy skill.

Freedom to worship and to follow a chosen religion 
is constitutionally protected in the United States.  
As a result, literally hundreds of religions and 
sects exist.  The population is overwhelmingly 
Christian, although obtaining accurate statistical 
data with regard to religion is extremely difficult, 
as this information is not included in the decennial 
census or otherwise collected by the government.  
The available figures are often rough, based on 
self-reporting studies which leave great room for 
error.  According to the 1992 Yearbook of American 
and Canadian Churches, practicing church members 
make up 59.3 percent of the general population.  Of 
those church members, the major groups include 
Protestants (chiefly Baptists, Methodists, 
Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, 
Pentecostals and Mormons) (49.4 percent) and Roman 
Catholics (38.6 percent).  Jews and Muslims make up 
about 2 percent each, and followers of Eastern 
religions comprise about 3 percent.

D. Land

In its totality, the United States of America covers 
9.4 million sq. km, including the 48 coterminous 
states which span the North American continent, 
Alaska, Hawaii and the various insular areas in the 
Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea.

The geography of the continental United States is 
widely varied, with great mountain ranges, flat open 
prairies, and numerous rivers.  On the Atlantic 
shore, much of the northern coast is rocky, but the 
middle and southern Atlantic coast rises gently from 
the sea.  It starts as low, wet ground and sandy 
flats, but then becomes a rolling coastal lowland 
somewhat like that of northern and western Europe.  
The Appalachians, which run roughly parallel to the 
east coast, are old mountains with many open valleys 
between them.  To the west is the Appalachian 
plateau underlain by extensive coal deposits, and 
beyond is the Central Lowland, which resembles the 
plains of eastern Europe or the Great Plains of 
Australia.  The Central Lowland is drained chiefly 
by the vast Mississippi-Missouri river system, which 
extends some 5970 km and which experienced 
disastrous flooding during 1993.  In the south, the 
Gulf Coastal Lowlands, including Florida and 
westward to the Texas Coast, include many lagoons, 
swamps and sandbars in addition to rolling coastal 

North of the Central Lowland, extending for almost 
1600 km, are the five Great Lakes, four of which the 
United States shares with Canada.  The lakes are 
estimated to contain about half of the world's fresh 

West of the Central Lowland are the Great Plains, 
likened to the flat top of a table which is slightly 
tilted upward to the west.  They are stopped by the 
Rocky Mountains, the "backbone of the continent."  
The Rockies are considered young mountains, of the 
same age as the Alps in Europe or the Himalayas in 
Asia.  They are high, rough and irregular in shape, 
with peaks exceeding 4200 meters above sea level.  
Through the Rockies runs the Continental Divide 
which separates drainage into the Atlantic Ocean 
from drainage into the Pacific Ocean.

The land west of the Rockies is made up of distinct 
and separate regions.  One region encompasses the 
high Colorado Plateau, in which the Grand Canyon of 
the Colorado River is cut, 1.6 km in depth.  Other 
regions include the high Columbia tableland to the 
north, the Basin and Range Province to the south, 
the Sierra Nevada mountain range, and at the border 
of the Pacific Ocean, the Coast Ranges, relatively 
low mountains in a region with occasional 
earthquakes.  Death Valley, located in eastern 
California and southwestern Nevada, contains the 
lowest point in the Western Hemisphere, 86 meters 
below sea level.

The Cascade Mountains and the Sierra Nevada 
Mountains, close to the west coast of the continent, 
catch the largest share of the rain off the Pacific 
Ocean before it can go inland.  As a result, there 
is too little rain for almost the whole western half 
of the United States, which lies in the "rain 
shadow" of the mountains.  In a great part of that 
territory, farmers must depend on irrigation water 
from the snows or rains that are trapped by the 
mountains.  Most of the western half of the country, 
with the exception of the Pacific Northwest states, 
receives less than 50 cm of rainfall a year.  
Regions in the eastern half receive at least 50 cm, 
and often much more, through moist air masses from 
the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean that travel 

Along the western or Pacific coast, the temperature 
changes little between winter and summer.  In some 
places, the average difference between July and 
January is as little as 10 degrees centigrade.  The 
climate along the northern part of this coast is 
similar to that of England.  However, in the north 
central part of the country, summer and winter are 
vastly different.  The average difference between 
July and January is 36 degrees centigrade, and more 
violent extremes are common.  In the eastern part of 
the United States, the difference between summer and 
winter is also distinct, but not nearly so extreme.  
Near the southwestern and southeastern corners of 
the country, the climate is mild in winter, but in 
summer the temperature may reach equatorial levels.  

Natural vegetation ranges from the mixed forests of 
the Appalachians to the grasslands of the Great 
Plains, from the conifers of the Rocky Mountains to 
the redwood forests of California, the cacti and 
mesquite of the southwestern deserts and the 
subtropical pines, oaks, palms, and mangroves of the 
Gulf and southern Atlantic coasts.

The variations in temperature within the continental 
United States have had a marked effect on the 
country's economy and living standard.  There is a 
long crop growing season along the southeast coast.  
This is also true in several small strips and 
pockets to the west where crops like grapes grow 
well during a large part of the year.  In some of 
the cooler climates, animals and produce such as 
apples, wheat and corn thrive.  Subtropical climates 
in parts of the United States allow for particularly 
long growing seasons.  Citrus fruit is grown in 
Florida, California, Arizona and Texas.  Sugar cane 
is grown in Louisiana and rice in Arkansas, 
California, Louisiana and Texas.  Cotton is grown 
throughout the southeastern United States as well as 
in Texas, Arizona and California.  As a result, the 
United States produces a large range of agricultural 
products.  Approximately one-half of the land is 
occupied by farms, with dairies important in the 
north and northeast, livestock and feedgrains in the 
Midwest, wheat in the Great Plains, and livestock on 
the High Plains and in the South.

Located at the extreme northwestern corner of the 
continent and separated from the 48 contiguous 
states by western Canada, Alaska is the largest 
state (1.5 million sq. km) and the only one 
extending longitudinally into the Eastern 
Hemisphere.  Alaska includes two major mountain 
chains, the Brooks Range in the north and the Alaska 
Range in the south, as well as the highest point in 
the United States, Mt. McKinley (6,194 meters above 
sea level).  The two ranges are separated by a 
Central Plateau through which the Yukon River flows.  
The northernmost part of the state contains the 
Arctic Slope.  With thousands of off- shore islands, 
Alaska has 54,552 km of shoreline.  Alaska is one of 
the least populous states (in 1992, only Wyoming had 
a smaller population), but indigenous people 
constitute over 15 percent of the total.

The Aleutian Islands extend 1930 km into the 
northern Pacific Ocean from the Alaskan Peninsula 
and include some 150 islands of volcanic origin 
totaling 17,666 sq. km.  The population of 8,000 is 
largely indigenous.

Hawaii, the 50th state, comprises a chain of some 
130 islands representing the peaks of submerged 
volcanic mountains extending across 2400 km in the 
North Pacific Ocean.  The main islands (Hawaii, 
Maui, Kahoolawe, Lanai, Molokai, Oahu, Kauai and 
Niihau) are located at the southeastern end, 
approximately 3800 km from the mainland.  There are 
several active volcanoes, including Mauna Loa (4,169 
meters) and Kilauea (4,205 meters).  The climate is 
generally subtropical; Mt. Waialeale on Kauai is the 
wettest spot in the United States, with an average 
annual rainfall of 1,168 cm.  The population exceeds 
1.1 million and is of diverse origins; 20 percent 
are Native Hawaiians of Polynesian and Tahitian 
descent, 25 percent Japanese, 12 percent Filipino, 
and 29 percent Caucasian of American, European, and 
South American lineage.

Guam, a self-governing territory of the United 
States, is located approximately 9,600 km from the 
mainland in the western Pacific Ocean.  The largest 
and southernmost of the Mariana Islands, it is 48 km 
long and encompasses 541 sq. km of land.  The 
highest point is Mt. Lamlam (405 meters above sea 
level).  The population totals 146,000, of which 47 
percent is Chamorro, 25 percent Filipinos and 20 
percent stateside immigrants.

The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands 
includes an archipelago of 16 islands stretching 
some 750 km in the Western Pacific, approximately 
2400 km east of the Philippines.  The three main 
islands are Saipan, Tinian and Rota; the total land 
mass is 477 sq. km.  The population of 49,000 is 
largely of Chamorro descent.  The principal industry 
is tourism, although many residents engage in 
subsistence agriculture and copra export.

The most southern U.S. jurisdiction is American 
Samoa, an unincorporated territory of 7 small 
islands at the eastern end of the Samoan Island 
chain in the South Pacific Ocean, midway between 
Honolulu and Sydney, Australia.  They include 
Tutuila, Aunu'u, the Manu'a group, Rose Island and 
Swains Island, covering 199 sq. km.  Volcanic and 
mountainous, and surrounded by coral reefs, the 
islands retain much of their original Polynesian 
culture.  The population of 53,000 is composed of 
U.S. nationals approximately 90 percent of whom are 
Samoans with the remainder being primarily Tongan or 
other Pacific Island origin.

Other U.S. dependencies in the Pacific Ocean include 
Wake Island (and its sister islands Wilkes and 
Peale), an atoll in the central Pacific with a 
population of 300 (mostly U.S. government personnel 
with no indigenous population); Midway Islands 
(including Sand and Eastern Islands) in the northern 
Pacific with no indigenous population; Johnston 
Atoll, with a total area of 2.8 sq. km and no 
indigenous population; Howland, Jarvis and Baker 
Islands, which are uninhabited and administered by 
the Department of the Interior; Kingman Reef, which 
is uninhabited and administered by the U.S. Navy; 
and Palmyra Atoll, privately owned and administered 
by the Department of the Interior.

In the Caribbean, Puerto Rico is a self-governing 
commonwealth located at the eastern end of the 
Greater Antilles.  The main island is largely 
mountainous with a surrounding coastal plain; Cerro 
del Punta in the Cordillera Central is the highest 
elevation, at 1,325 meters above sea level.  The 
main island extends 153 km east-to-west and 58 km 
north-to-south, and encompasses approximately 9,100 
sq. km.  Puerto Rico enjoys a mild tropical climate 
but is subject to hurricanes.  The population of 3.8 
million is largely Hispanic, descended from Spanish 
conquerors and slaves.  Some 2.7 million Puerto 
Ricans reside on the mainland.  The primary economic 
activities include tourism, light manufacturing and 

Some 60 miles to the east of the main island of 
Puerto Rico lie the U.S. Virgin Islands, the 
westernmost group of the Lesser Antilles in the West 
Indies.  The three largest are St. Thomas, St. John 
and St. Croix; altogether, the territory covers some 
352 sq. km of land.  The highest point is Crown 
Mountain on St. Thomas, with an elevation of 474 
meters.  The climate is subtropical, and the 
principal activities involve tourism, light 
manufacturing and agriculture.  The population 
totals 98,000, of which 85 percent are African 
Americans.  Off the western tip of Haiti is Navassa 
Island, uninhabited and administered by the U.S. 
Coast Guard. 
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