No nation has ever had the rich supply of resources to face the future that the U.S. economy has as it enters the 21st century. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, U.S. consumers, businesses, and political leaders are still trying to do more than earlier generations of citizens.
XICHIEF GOODS AND SERVICES OF THE U.S. ECONOMY
The U.S. economy, the largest in the world, produces many different goods and services. This can be seen more easily by dividing economic activities into four sectors that produce different kinds of goods and services. The first sector provides goods that come directly from natural resources: agriculture, forestry, fishing, and mining. The second sector includes manufacturing and the generation of electricity. The third sector, made up of commerce and services, is now the largest part of the U.S. economy. It encompasses financial services, retail and wholesale sales, government services, transportation, entertainment, tourism, and other businesses that provide a wide variety of services to individuals and businesses. The fourth major economic sector deals with the recording, processing, and transmission of information, and includes the communications industry.
ANatural Resource Sector
The United States, more than most countries, enjoys a wide array of natural resources. Agricultural output in the United States has historically been among the highest in the world. Rich fishing grounds and coastal habitats provide abundant seafood. Companies harvest the nations large reserves of timber to use in wood products and housing. Major mineral resourcesincluding iron ore, lead, and copper, as well as energy resources such as coal, crude oil, and natural gasare abundant in the United States.
The United States contains some of the best cropland in the world. Cultivated farmland constitutes 19 percent of the land area of the country and makes the United States the worlds richest agricultural nation. In part because of the nations favorable climate, soil, and water conditions, farmers produce huge quantities of agricultural commodities and a variety of crops and livestock.
The United States is the largest producer of corn, soybeans, and sorghum, and it ranks second in the production of wheat, oats, citrus fruits, and tobacco. The United States is also a major producer of sugar cane, potatoes, peanuts, and beet sugar. It ranks fourth in the world in cattle production and second in hogs. The total annual value of farm output increased from $55 billion in 1970 to $202 billion in 1996. Farmers in the United States not only produce enough food to feed the nations population, they also export more farm products than any other nation. Despite this vast output, the U.S. economy is so large and diversified that agriculture accounted for only 2 percent of annual GDP and employed only 3 percent of the workforce in 1998.
During the 20th century, many Americans moved from rural to urban areas of the United States, resulting in large population decreases in farming regions. Even though the number of farms has been declining since the 1930s, overall production has increased because of more efficient operations. Bigger farms, operated as large businesses, have increasingly replaced small family farms. The owners of larger farms make greater use of modern machinery and other equipment. By the 1990s, farm operations were highly mechanized. By applying mechanization, technology, efficient business practices, and scientific advances in agricultural methods, larger farms produce great quantities of agricultural output using small amounts of labor and land.
In 1999 there were 2,194,070 farms in the United States, down from a high of 6.8 million in 1935. As smaller farms have been consolidated into larger units, the average farm size in the United States increased from about 63 hectares (about 155 acres) to 175 hectares (432 acres) by 1999.
Cattle production is widespread throughout the United States. Texas leads in the production of range cattle, which are allowed to graze freely. Iowa and Illinois are important for nonrange feeder cattle, which are cattle that eat feed grain provided by cattle farmers. The Dairy Belt continues to be concentrated in southern Wisconsin but is also prominent in the rural landscapes of most northeastern states and fairly common in other states, too. Hog production tends to be concentrated in Iowa, Illinois, and surrounding states, where hogs are fattened for market. Chicken production is widespread, but southern states, including Texas, Arkansas, and Alabama, dominate.
Corn and soybean production is concentrated heavily in Iowa and Illinois and is also important in surrounding states, including Missouri, Indiana, Nebraska, and the southern regions of Minnesota and Wisconsin. Wheat is another important U.S. crop. Kansas usually leads all states in yearly wheat production. North Dakota, Montana, Oklahoma, Washington, Idaho, South Dakota, Colorado, Texas, Minnesota, and Nebraska also are major wheat producers.
For more than a century and a half, cotton was the predominant cash crop in the South. Today, however, it is no longer important in some of the traditional cotton-growing areas east of the Mississippi River. While some cotton is still produced in the Old South, it has become more important in the Mississippi Valley, the Panhandle of Texas, and the Central Valley of California. Cotton is shipped to mills in the eastern United States and is exported to cotton textile plants in Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, and Taiwan.
Vegetables are grown widely in the United States. Outside major U.S. cities, small farms and gardens, known as truck farms, grow vegetables and some varieties of fruits for urban markets. California is the leading vegetable producing state; much of its cropland is irrigated.
Most fruits grown in the United States fall in the categories of midlatitude and citrus fruits. Midlatitude fruits, such as apples, pears, and plums, grow in northern states including Washington, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New York. Citrus fruitslemons, oranges, and grapefruitsthrive in Florida, southern Texas, and southern California. Nuts grow on irrigated land in the Central Valley of California and in parts of southern California.
Production of specialty crops and livestock has increased in recent years, particularly along the East and West coasts and in the Southeast. Ranches in New York and Texas have introduced exotic game, such as emu, fallow deer, and nilgai and black buck antelope. Deer and antelope meat, known as venison, is served mainly in restaurants. Specialty vegetable and fruit operations produce dwarf apples, brown and green cotton, canola, and jasmine rice. Farmers raise more than 60 specialty crops in the United States for Asian-American markets, including bean sprouts, snow peas, and Chinese cabbage.
In the 1990s, less than 1 percent of the countrys workforce was involved in the lumber industry, and forestry accounted for less than 0.5 percent of the nations gross domestic product (GDP). Nevertheless, forests represent a crucial resource for U.S. industry. Forest resources are used in producing housing, fuel, foodstuffs, and manufactured goods. The United States leads the world in lumber production and is second in the production of wood for pulp and paper manufacture. These high production levels, however, do not satisfy all of the U.S. demand for forest products. The United States is the worlds largest importer of lumber, most of which comes from Canada.
When European settlers first arrived in North America, half of the land on the continent was covered with forests. The forests of the eastern and northern portions of the country were fairly continuous. Beginning with the early colonists, the natural vegetation was altered drastically as farmers cleared land for crops and pastures, and cut trees for firewood and lumber. In the north and east, lumbermen quickly cut all of the valuable trees before moving on to other locations. Only 10 percent of the original virgin timber remains. Almost two thirds of the forests that remain have been classified as commercial resources.
Forests still cover 23 percent of the United States. The trees in the nations forests contain an estimated 7.1 billion cu m (249.3 billion cu ft) of wood suitable for lumber. Private individuals and businesses, including farmers, lumber companies, paper mills, and other wood-using industries, own about 73 percent of the commercial forestland. Federal, state, and local governments own the remaining 27 percent.
Softwoods (wood harvested from cone-bearing trees) make up about three-fourths of forestry production and hardwoods (wood harvested from broad-leafed trees) about one-fourth. Nearly half the timber output is used for making lumber boards, and about one-third is converted to pulpwood, which is subsequently used to manufacture paper. Most of the remaining output goes into plywood and veneer. Douglas fir and southern yellow pine are the primary softwoods used in making lumber, and oak is the most important hardwood.
About half of the nations lumber and all of its fir plywood come from the forests of the Pacific states, an area dominated by softwoods. In addition to the Douglas fir forests in Washington and Oregon, this area includes the famous California redwoods and the Sitka spruce along the coas