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Geographic Terms and Concepts*

Counties and Statistically Equivalent Entities

The primary legal division in most states are counties. In Louisiana, these divisions are known as parishes.

In Alaska, the equivalent entities are: (1) organized boroughs, (2) combined city and boroughs, (3) municipalities, and (4) census areas (CAs). The Alaskan CAs are delineated for statistical purposes in a joint manner by the state of Alaska and the U.S. Census Bureau.

In four states (Maryland, Missouri, Nevada, and Virginia), there are one or more incorporated places that are independent of any county organization. These incorporated places are known as independent cities and are treated as county equivalent entities for purposes of census data presentation.

All of the counties in Connecticut and Rhode Island and nine counties in Massachusetts have been dissolved as functioning governmental entities. However, the Census Bureau continues to present data for these historical entities in order to provide comparable geographic units at the county level of the geographic hierarchy for these states and represents them as nonfunctioning legal entities in census data products.

County Subdivisions

County Subdivisions are the primary divisions of counties and equivalent entities. They include Minor Civil Divisions (MCDs), Census County Divisions (CCDs), and Unorganized Territories.

Minor Civil Divisions (MCDs)

MCDs are legal entities with administrative authority and are the primary governmental or administrative divisions of a county in 29 states:

Arkansas
Connecticut
Illinois
Indiana
Iowa
Kansas
Louisiana
Maine
Maryland
Massachusetts
Michigan
Minnesota
Mississippi
Missouri
Nebraska
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Ohio
Pennsylvania
Rhode Island
South Dakota
Tennessee
Vermont
Virginia
West Virginia
Wisconsin

The title and governmental authority of MCDs can vary widely from state to state. For example, MCDs in the six New England states and New York are referred to as towns, while those in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Michigan are referred to as townships. The MCDs in all ten of these state have strong governmental functions while MCDs in some other states may have only weak governmental authority.

In some states, all or some incorporated places are not part of any MCD. In nine states (Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Wisconsin) all incorporated places are independent places. In other states, incorporated places are part of, or dependent within, the MCDs in which they are located, or the pattern is mixed - some incorporated places are independent of MCDs and others are included within one or more MCDs.

The MCDs in 12 states (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin) also serve as general-purpose local governments that can perform the same governmental functions as incorporated places. The Census Bureau presents data for these MCDs in all data products for which place data are provided.

The state of Alaska and the Census Bureau cooperatively delineate census subareas to serve as the statistical equivalents of MCDs. These census subareas are statistical subdivisions of boroughs, city and boroughs, municipalities, and census areas, all of which are statistical equivalent entities for counties in Alaska.

Census County Divisions (CCDs)

CCDs are purely statistical entities. They have no legal authority and are not governmental units. CCDs are simply areas delineated by the Census Bureau in cooperation with state, tribal, and local officials for statistical purposes. CCD boundaries usually follow visible features and usually coincide with census tract boundaries. The name of each CCD is based on a place, county, or well-known local name that identifies its location. CCDs exist where:

  1. There are no legally established MCDs.
  2. The legally established MCDs do not have governmental or administrative purposes.
  3. The boundaries of the MCDs change frequently.
  4. The MCDs are not generally known to the public.

CCDs exist within the following 20 states:

Alabama
Arizona
California
Colorado
Delaware
Florida
Georgia
Hawaii
Idaho
Kentucky
Montana
Nevada
New Mexico
Oklahoma
Oregon
South Carolina
Texas
Utah
Washington
Wyoming

Unorganized Territories (UTs) are defined by the Census Bureau in nine MCD states where portions of counties or equivalent entities are not included in any legally established MCD or incorporated place. The Census Bureau recognizes such separate pieces of territory as one or more separate county subdivisions for census purposes. It assigns each unorganized territory a descriptive name, followed by the designation "UT". The following states have unorganized territories:

Arkansas
Indiana
Iowa
Maine
Minnesota
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
South Dakota

* This information is based upon the U.S. Census Bureau Guide to State and Local Cenusus Geography.