The United States of America

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The United States of America is located in the middle of the North American continent. The 48 states of the conterminous United States stretch from the Atlantic Ocean in the east, where the country has a 6,000-km-long (3,700-mi) coastline--including the Gulf of Mexico--to the Pacific, where the coast stretches for 2,100 km (1,300 mi). The United States shares borders with only 2 other countries. In the north the border extends across the width of both Canada and the United States and between Alaska (the 49th state) and Canada for 8,900 km (5,500 mi); in the south the shorter border with Mexico is 3,111 km (1,933 mi) long. Hawaii (the 50th state) is composed of a group of Pacific islands about 3,400 km (2,100 mi) southwest of San Francisco; Alaska occupies the northwestern extremity of North America, with a 10,700-km (6,700-mi) coastline on the Pacific and Arctic oceans.

The United States is the world's fourth largest country--after the Russian federation, Canada, and China--and the third most populous (after China and India). The 50 states are blessed with a variety of mineral, agricultural, water, and other land resources that provide the basis for a highly productive economy--in fact, the United States is the world's wealthiest nation. For most of the 20th century the country has enjoyed economic preeminence throughout the world, particularly during the post-World War II era. Yet within the United States, the population, per capita wealth, and general welfare are unevenly distributed, with areas of affluence often contiguous with areas of poverty. Beginning in the early 1970s the United States faced economic difficulties brought on by a high foreign trade deficit, the declining value of the dollar abroad, high governmental spending, and inflation. During the 1980s, inflation was brought under control and tax-cutting stimulated economic expansion in some sectors, although there was stagnation in others. The trade deficit remained, however, and the national debt burgeoned as never before. By 1993 the nation was undergoing recession and economic difficulties in the manufacturing, savings and loan, banking, and insurance industries.


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