Statestats | Getting to Know America's Territories

1/1/2018

STATE LEGISLATURES MAGAZINE | january 2018

The Territories: They Are Us

[Here are the charts and graphics that accompanied this story in print.]

It became clear following the massive hurricane destruction last fall that most Americans don’t know much about the 16 U.S. territories. Sixteen? Yes, but you’ve probably heard of only the five that have permanent residents: American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

map of territoriesAll but American Samoa are classified as “organized territories,” meaning Congress passed an Organic Act allowing them to establish a government and elect a governor and a legislature. Their residents are American citizens. Because Congress has not passed an Organic Act for American Samoa, it is technically considered “unorganized” and residents are American nationals, not citizens. There’s not much difference between the two designations, however.

All use the U.S. dollar, none pay federal taxes and all have the protection of the U.S. court system. But neither citizens nor nationals from the territories can vote in presidential elections, based on the U.S. Constitution giving that responsibility to the “states.” And, like the District of Columbia, each territory elects a member to the U.S. House of Representatives who may participate in most aspects of Congress, except floor votes.

Northern Mariana Islands

Saipan, Tinian, Rota and 15 minor islands

Year it became a U.S. territory: 1976

Population: 53,500, 89% urban

Capital:  Saipan

Legislature: Nine senators, 20 representatives

Exports: Clothing, iron and steel, fish

GDP per capita: $16,297

Guam

Year it became a U.S. territory: 1898

Population: 161,000, 94.6% urban

Capital: Hagåtña

Legislature: 15 senators

Exports: Food and drinks, cars, watches

GDP per capita: $31,809

American Samoa

Islands of Tutuila, Tau, Olosega, Ofu and Aunuu, along with Rose Atoll and Swains Island, both coral reefs

Year it became a U.S. territory: 1900

Population: 57,400, 87.3% urban

Capital: Pago Pago

Legislature: 18 senators, 21 representatives

Exports: Canned tuna

GDP per capita: $13,000

Puerto Rico

Year it became a U.S. territory: 1898

Population: 3.415 million, 93.6% urban

Capital: San Juan

Legislature: 27 senators, 51 representatives

Exports: Medical chemicals, food, computers

GDP per capita: $19,310

U.S. Virgin Islands

St. Croix, St. John, St. Thomas and 50 minor islets and cays

Year it became a U.S. territory: 1917

Population: 102,951, 95.3% urban

Capital:  Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas

Legislature: 15 senators

Exports: Refined petroleum, rum, watches

GDP per capita: $35,302


U.S. Territories by the Numbers

3,789,851 — Citizens living in the five inhabited territories in 2016

No. 1 — American Samoa’s rank among states for the number of military enlistments per capita

20,000 — Number of men and women from the territories who serve in the military

2008 — Year Northern Mariana Islanders elected their first U.S. congressional delegate (nonvoting)

— Number of U.S. national parks south of the equator: the National Park of American Samoa

60 percent — Portion of St. John that is part of the Virgin Islands National Park

10 x — Number of people who live in Puerto Rico compared with all other territories combined

— Amount of land people who are not of “Northern Mariana Islands descent” can own

 

Additional Resources

NCSL Resources