With more than 245,000,000 inhabitants, the United States is the fourth country in the world in terms of population. About 75 % of the population live in urban areas and there are 170 cities of more than 100,000 inhabitants, 24 of which have populations of over 500,000. Most of these urban centers lie along the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts, the Gulf of Mexico and the Great Lakes. The most populous area is the relatively small Northeast, which accounts for nearly one fourth of the nation’s population.
In 1990 the US Bureau of the Census conducted a new census of the American people. The Census counted 245,837,683 people in the USA. But the figures might be incorrect. One of the Governors, referring to his state’s smaller-than-expected growth, said, “Do you honestly believe that everybody who should be counted has been counted?”
“What then is the American, this new man?” One of enthusiastic French visitors first posed the
question in 1782. Even in his day his answer – that an American was “either a European or the descendant of a European” – was inadequate to describe a variegated people that already included Indians and Africans.
America’s population remains richly diverse. Statistics tell part of the story. 87.5 per cent are classified as white by the US Bureau of the Census. The vast majority of the population was WASP until about 1860. Between 1860 and 1920 almost 30 million immigrants arrived from central and southeastern Europe in particular. These mainly Italian, Russian, Polish and Hungarian immigrants quickly formed their own culturally homogeneous neighborhoods (“Little Italys”, for example) and became a second economic class behind the WASPs. So now the majority, fully 65 per cent, are other than “Anglo-Saxon”.
Almost 12 per cent of the population that are black are bottom of the economic and educational table, with far higher unemployment than whites, especially as a result of racial discrimination.
The most rapidly growing ethnic group is the Hispanics (almost 7 % of the Americans), who still continue to use Spanish in their homes even though the vast majority were born in the United States. Like the blacks, they have a generally lower economic and educational level than the rest of the population and are also isolated in ghetto areas.
There are almost 2 million generally prosperous Oriental Americans (predominantly from Japan, China and the Philippines), who are concentrated mainly in California.
The 1.5 million Native Americans live mainly in reserves in the southwestern states in usually deep poverty and there has been little or no integration into American society.
While most of US minorities maintain their individual cultural identity, any gains that are made by one group serve to help them all. It was once widely believed that the US was a “melting pot”, fueled by the clash of immigrant cultures. In recent years the interest of America’s myriad ethnic minorities in the customs and traditions of the lands from which their fathers came has grown, sparked in part by a new sense of self-esteem. More accurate than “melting pot” might be the metaphor “salad bowl”, implying that each ingredient makes its contribution and adds flavor to the whole.
Since there are different ethnic groups in the United States, the civil right issue has always dominated American politics. It became very urgent in the 1950s and 1960s.
Numerous Presidents attempted to improve the situation of black people and other minorities in American society.