How many U.S. territories exist, and how do their governments work?

by | Jun 4, 2009 02:00 PM ET

You Asked:

How many U.S. territories exist, and how do their governments work? --- Darcy, Rosenberg, Texas

Marshall Answered:

Everyone knows that the United States has 50 states. But the U.S. also has a number of territories that have various relationships with the United States.

Puerto Rico is probably the best known of these territories.


It is not a state, in that it does not have any voting representation in the U.S. house or senate. But residents of Puerto Rico are United States citizens. They do participate in United States payroll taxes like social security, but they don't have to pay United States income tax. Instead, they pay Peurto Rican income tax. Most U.S. laws apply in Puerto Rico, but Puerto Rico also has its own laws. For more info on the government see: this article. See also: Puerto Rico.

The other U.S. territories are: The U.S. Virgin Islands, American Somoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and eleven other small islands in the pacific ocean. Many of these small islands have not fared so well under U.S. sovereignty. For example, the Johnson Atoll has been the site of twelve thermonuclear bomb blasts.


The island became so contaminated that the top layer of soil was scraped off and deposited in a big landfill on the island. Since the island now had a toxic waste dump, the United States decided to dump other things there, like left-over agent orange debris from the Vietnam War.

So the answer to your question is: 5 major territories and 11 smaller Pacific Islands (some of which are pretty badly damaged).

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