The US has the strongest economy in the world and its residents enjoy, on average, the highest standard of living in the world thanks to the purchasing power of the domestic currency. However, the differences in income and social situation are huge.
Although the basis of the economy is industrial production, intensively using the latest scientific knowledge, trade and services have long played a decisive role. The relative economic decline of the industrial north is compensated by the dynamic development of the south and southwest.
The US has immense mineral wealth, but even these resources cannot satisfy all the demand for energy, raw materials and goods, which, in addition to large-scale industrial production and consumption capacity, contributes to a generous but also risky foreign policy. The result is, despite the permanent economic growth of the USA, a growing deficit of foreign trade and the state budget.
According to Country Minus, about half of the land area of the USA is used for agricultural purposes. Production exceeds domestic consumption and the country is one of the largest food exporters. Wide mechanization, scientific methods of farming on large plots of land have caused that only 2.5% of the labor force works in agriculture. Still, the US accounts for about 15% of world agricultural production.
Arable land covers about 20% of the US land area and about half in the agricultural heartlands. High yields in connection with the intensive use of artificial fertilizers and other chemical agents lead to a change in the subsidy policy. Efforts in the late 1980s, however, slowed down its implementation. Soil erosion is a major management problem, especially in the Midwest.
Due to different natural conditions, American agriculture is characterized by considerable regional specialization. The largest area of arable land is concentrated in the plains between the Appalachians and the Rocky Mountains. This vast area includes the so-called prairie wheat belt in the west (spring wheat is grown in the north, winter wheat in the south) and the corn belt in the Central Plains. A number of other crops such as soybeans, sugarcane and sunflowers are grown within it. The cotton growing area stretches from Texas to Georgia, sugar cane, peanuts, rice and tobacco are also important crops here.
Fruits and vegetables are grown all over the US, but their largest producer, especially in the winter months, is California. The mild and dry climate of the irrigated Central Valley is particularly suitable for growing citrus and grapevines.
The focus of livestock production also varies somewhat regionally. Dairy cattle and poultry farming is most widespread in the north and the industrial northeast. To the south lies the area of mixed agriculture, with cattle and pig breeding, which has an excellent fodder base here. Grazing beef cattle predominates on the prairies, ranches, and irrigated farms of the Rocky Mountains and Mountain Basins. Again, dairy farming dominates the juicy Northwest. Large surpluses of agricultural production are exported, the storage of reserves is still subsidized by the government.
Forestry and fishing
Nearly 1/3 of the U.S. is forested, with nearly 2/3 of the forest area being commercially exploited or prepared for exploitation. Commercial forests are mostly privately owned, but a significant portion is also under local, state, or federal control. The US is the world’s largest producer of construction wood, but rapidly increasing domestic demand is beginning to exceed production in some areas, and the country is becoming an importer of this raw material. The most important production area is the Northwest.
The USA ranks among the five countries with the largest fish catch. After a large decline in fish in the 1970s, caused by overfishing, their numbers are increasing again. Sea pollution remains a major threat. In 1989, a large oil spill from the Exxon Valdez tanker devastated part of the coast of southern Alaska.
Health and social care
Poverty and racial (national) issues still affect the provision of social care in many ways. The gap between the rich and the poor has also grown significantly under the Republican administration. In 1988, the federal government estimated that more than an eighth of the population lived below the poverty line, as much as a third in the case of the black population.
The standard of US health care and medical facilities is high by standard, and the health of the population continues to improve. The federal government provides health subsidies, but for most people, health services are an expensive commodity, and this produces inequities. E.g. the infant mortality rate of the black population is twice that of the white population. Many poor people cannot afford health insurance at all. In 1988, Massachusetts became the first state to provide mandatory health insurance to all citizens. The following year, Washington established a health care program for low-income families.
Two major current problems—mass drug use and AIDS—place huge financial demands on the US health system. HIV infection and the AIDS disease have experienced the greatest spread in the USA after Africa. Health insurance is often denied to the sick or infected.
US welfare includes unemployment and sickness benefits, disability, old-age and widow’s pensions, and maternity leave. It is organized by the private sector and the government, which also provides assistance to poor families with children. The range and amount of benefits varies from state to state in the US. Everyone who has been employed is entitled to a pension based on the government’s social insurance scheme. But the fund is proving difficult to finance and its future is in doubt. Health and life insurance policies are often provided by employers, but the decisive part falls on the employees.
Education is mainly the responsibility of municipalities and the state, although there are a number of private and church schools. In most US states, free schooling is compulsory from ages 6 to 16, but most students don’t finish it until age 17 or 18 after graduating from high school. There are many world-famous universities (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Berkeley) and other colleges in the USA. Most are also subsidized by the state, but a significant part of the study costs are covered by students with the help of tuition loans and other forms of support. The government also provides funds for study materials, meals, research grants and educational programs for students of Indian origin.