Central America

Central America

Stretching across the most temperate part of North America, and with many natural resources, the US is the world’s leading economic power and third-largest country.

Geography: The US has a varied topography. Forested mountains stretch from New  England in the far northeast, giving way to lowlands and swamps in the extreme south. The central plains are dominated by the Mississippi–Missouri River system and the Great Lakes on the Canadian border. The Rocky Mountains in the west contain active volcanoes and drop to the coast across the earthquake-prone San Andreas Fault. The southwest is arid desert. Mountainous Alaska is mostly Arctic tundra.

People and Society: Although the demographic, economic, and cultural dominance of White Americans is firmly entrenched after over 400 years of settlement, the ethnic balance of the country is shifting. Barack Obama, whose father was African, became the first non-White US president in 2009. The African-American community, originally uprooted by the slave trade, has a strong consciousness. Less well organized socially but more numerous, and faster-growing, the Hispanic community is predicted to number over 25% of the population by 2050. Native Americans, dispossessed in  the 19th century, are now among the poorest people. Constitutionally, state and religion are clearly separated. Conservative Christianity, however, is increasingly dominant politically. Living standards are high, but bad diet and insufficient exercise have left over a third of Americans obese.

 The Economy: World’s largest economy: well established engineering and high-tech industries, huge resource base, global spread of US culture. Manufacturing is in decline as jobs are lost to low-wage economies. The combination of tax cuts, to boost consumer spending after the 2001 slowdown, and the rising defence budget for the “war on terror” drove the budget into a record deficit. Oil production was hit badly in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina, causing global price hikes. The “subprime” mortgage lending crisis of 2007 sent global stock markets plummeting. In 2008, Lehman Brothers bank crashed spectacularly, while other giants in the financial sector received huge bailouts. Further tax cuts and billion-dollar spending packages in 2009 attempted to lift the economy back out of recession, but the gaping budget deficit also needs to be brought under control.

Climate: There are four main climatic zones. The north and east are continental and temperate, with heavy rainfall, warm summers, and cold winters. Florida and the Deep South are tropical and prone to hurricanes. The southwest is arid desert, with searing summer heat and low rainfall. Southern California is Mediterranean, with hot summers and mild winters.

 Insight: The United States of America has the world’s oldest constitution. Drafted in 1787, it has operated continuously ever since, albeit with numerous amendments

 Fact-File:

 Official Name: United States of America

 Date of Formation: 1776

 Capital: Washington, D.C.

 Population: 315 million

 Total Area: 3,717,792 sq. miles (9,626,091 sq. km)

 Density: 89 people per sq. mile

 Languages: English, Spanish, other

 Religions: Protestant 52%, Catholic 25%, other 19%, Muslim 2%, Jewish 2%

 Ethnic Mix: White 62%, Hispanic 13%, African American 13%, other 7%, Asian 4%, Native American 1%

 Government: Presidential system

 Currency: US dollar = 100 cents

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