A county
County (United States)
In the United States, a county is a geographic subdivision of a state , usually assigned some governmental authority. The term "county" is used in 48 of the 50 states; Louisiana is divided into parishes and Alaska into boroughs. Parishes and boroughs are called "county-equivalents" by the U.S...

in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 is a term used by the federal government
Federal government
The federal government is the common government of a federation. The structure of federal governments varies from institution to institution. Based on a broad definition of a basic federal political system, there are two or more levels of government that exist within an established territory and...

 to describe one of the two following governmental subdivisions:
  1. A unit of local government
    Local government
    Local government refers collectively to administrative authorities over areas that are smaller than a state.The term is used to contrast with offices at nation-state level, which are referred to as the central government, national government, or federal government...

     in certain states which is comparable to a county
    County (United States)
    In the United States, a county is a geographic subdivision of a state , usually assigned some governmental authority. The term "county" is used in 48 of the 50 states; Louisiana is divided into parishes and Alaska into boroughs. Parishes and boroughs are called "county-equivalents" by the U.S...

     as found in most states
    U.S. state
    A U.S. state is any one of the 50 federated states of the United States of America that share sovereignty with the federal government. Because of this shared sovereignty, an American is a citizen both of the federal entity and of his or her state of domicile. Four states use the official title of...

  2. An area defined by the United States Census Bureau
    United States Census Bureau
    The United States Census Bureau is the government agency that is responsible for the United States Census. It also gathers other national demographic and economic data...

     for statistical purposes in which no county-level government exists.

Examples of the first class can be found in a handful of states and the District of Columbia:
  • Louisiana
    Louisiana is a state located in the southern region of the United States of America. Its capital is Baton Rouge and largest city is New Orleans. Louisiana is the only state in the U.S. with political subdivisions termed parishes, which are local governments equivalent to counties...

     has no counties. Their parishes are, for all legal purposes, the equivalents of the counties found in 48 of the 49 other states.
  • In Virginia
    The Commonwealth of Virginia , is a U.S. state on the Atlantic Coast of the Southern United States. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" and sometimes the "Mother of Presidents" after the eight U.S. presidents born there...

    , all municipalities incorporated as cities are legally independent
    Independent city
    An independent city is a city that does not form part of another general-purpose local government entity. These type of cities should not be confused with city-states , which are fully sovereign cities that are not part of any other sovereign state.-Historical precursors:In the Holy Roman Empire,...

     of any county that would otherwise contain them. However, Virginia also has traditional counties as found in virtually all other states. As all parts of Virginia are located in either a county or an independent city, Virginia's independent cities are considered county-equivalents.
  • Three other cities within the United States are legally independent of any county: Baltimore (Maryland
    Maryland is a U.S. state located in the Mid Atlantic region of the United States, bordering Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia to its south and west; Pennsylvania to its north; and Delaware to its east...

    ); Carson City
    Carson City, Nevada
    The Consolidated Municipality of Carson City is the capital of the state of Nevada. The words Consolidated Municipality refer to a series of changes in 1969 which abolished Ormsby County and merged all the settlements contained within its borders into Carson City. Since that time Carson City has...

    Nevada is a state in the western, mountain west, and southwestern regions of the United States. With an area of and a population of about 2.7 million, it is the 7th-largest and 35th-most populous state. Over two-thirds of Nevada's people live in the Las Vegas metropolitan area, which contains its...

    ); and St. Louis
    St. Louis, Missouri
    St. Louis is an independent city on the eastern border of Missouri, United States. With a population of 319,294, it was the 58th-largest U.S. city at the 2010 U.S. Census. The Greater St...

    Missouri is a US state located in the Midwestern United States, bordered by Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. With a 2010 population of 5,988,927, Missouri is the 18th most populous state in the nation and the fifth most populous in the Midwest. It...

    ). These are also county-equivalents.
  • Alaska
    Alaska is the largest state in the United States by area. It is situated in the northwest extremity of the North American continent, with Canada to the east, the Arctic Ocean to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south, with Russia further west across the Bering Strait...

     is unique in several respects. The unit of government directly below the state level is called a borough instead of a county. Although the city of Anchorage
    Anchorage, Alaska
    Anchorage is a unified home rule municipality in the southcentral part of the U.S. state of Alaska. It is the northernmost major city in the United States...

     is legally called the Municipality of Anchorage, it is considered a consolidated city
    Consolidated city-county
    In United States local government, a consolidated city–county is a city and county that have been merged into one unified jurisdiction. As such it is simultaneously a city, which is a municipal corporation, and a county, which is an administrative division of a state...

     and borough under state law. All of Alaska's boroughs except the so-called Unorganized Borough
    Unorganized Borough
    The Unorganized Borough is the part of the U.S. state of Alaska not contained in any of its 18 organized boroughs. It encompasses more than half of Alaska's area, , an area larger than any other US state...

     (see below) are considered county-equivalents.
  • Washington, D.C.
    Washington, D.C.
    Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

    , like the capitals of many other countries (see below), has a special status. It is not part of any state; instead, it comprises the entirety of the District of Columbia, which, in accordance with Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, is under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Congress. When founded, the District was in fact divided into two counties and two independent cities. Alexandria County (which now forms Arlington County
    Arlington County, Virginia
    Arlington County is a county in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The land that became Arlington was originally donated by Virginia to the United States government to form part of the new federal capital district. On February 27, 1801, the United States Congress organized the area as a subdivision of...

     and a portion of the independent city of Alexandria
    Alexandria, Virginia
    Alexandria is an independent city in the Commonwealth of Virginia. As of 2009, the city had a total population of 139,966. Located along the Western bank of the Potomac River, Alexandria is approximately six miles south of downtown Washington, D.C.Like the rest of northern Virginia, as well as...

    ) was given back to Virginia in 1846, while the three remaining entities (the City of Washington, Georgetown City
    Georgetown, Washington, D.C.
    Georgetown is a neighborhood located in northwest Washington, D.C., situated along the Potomac River. Founded in 1751, the port of Georgetown predated the establishment of the federal district and the City of Washington by 40 years...

    , and Washington County
    Washington County, D.C.
    The County of Washington was one of the five political entities contained within the geographic region comprising what was originally the 100-square-mile District of Columbia. These were the City of Alexandria, the County of Alexandria, Georgetown, the City of Washington, and the County of...

    ) were merged into a consolidated government by an act of Congress in 1871 and Georgetown was formally abolished as a city entity by another act in 1895. Congress has established a home-rule government for the city, although city laws can be overridden by Congress, which has occurred even in recent years. Other than the lack of representation in Congress for its citizens, the city operates much like other independent cities in the United States, although technically, it does not meet the legal definition of one. In all respects, however, the U.S. media does treat Washington D.C. as an independent city.
  • Until 1997, the Census Bureau recognized the portion of Yellowstone National Park
    Yellowstone National Park
    Yellowstone National Park, established by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872, is a national park located primarily in the U.S. state of Wyoming, although it also extends into Montana and Idaho...

     within Montana
    Montana is a state in the Western United States. The western third of Montana contains numerous mountain ranges. Smaller, "island ranges" are found in the central third of the state, for a total of 77 named ranges of the Rocky Mountains. This geographical fact is reflected in the state's name,...

     as separate from any county. Since 1978, the state has recognized this land as being within adjacent counties.

The second class of county-equivalents is unique to Alaska. Most of the land area of that state has no organized county-level government. The Alaska state government
State government
A state government is the government of a subnational entity in a federal form of government, which shares political power with the federal or national government. A state government may have some level of political autonomy, or be subject to the direct control of the federal government...

 calls the entire portion of the state that is not part of a borough the Unorganized Borough
Unorganized Borough
The Unorganized Borough is the part of the U.S. state of Alaska not contained in any of its 18 organized boroughs. It encompasses more than half of Alaska's area, , an area larger than any other US state...

. In 1970, the Census Bureau, in cooperation with the state, divided the Unorganized Borough into census areas for statistical purposes. Each census area is considered a county-equivalent.

As of the 2000 census
United States Census, 2000
The Twenty-second United States Census, known as Census 2000 and conducted by the Census Bureau, determined the resident population of the United States on April 1, 2000, to be 281,421,906, an increase of 13.2% over the 248,709,873 persons enumerated during the 1990 Census...

 there were a total of 3,141 county-equivalents in the United States. The current total is 3,140, resulting from the decision of Clifton Forge, Virginia
Clifton Forge, Virginia
Clifton Forge is a town in Alleghany County, Virginia, United States which is part of the Roanoke Region. The population was 3,884 at the 2010 census. The Jackson River flows through the town, which as a result was once known as Jackson's River Station....

 to relinquish its city charter in 2001 and reincorporate as a town within Alleghany County
Alleghany County, Virginia
As of the census of 2000, there were 12,926 people, 5,149 households, and 3,866 families residing in the county. The population density was 29 people per square mile . There were 5,812 housing units at an average density of 13 per square mile...

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