There are over 3,000 county governmental units in the United States employing over 2.5 million employees. Traditionally counties have overseen such functions as road construction, hospital and health services, social welfare programs, public safety and corrections, and parks and recreation facilities. These functions often place counties directly in the mix between federal and state programs. Increasingly, counties find themselves competing with the overall interests of large metropolitan areas that overlap county and often state lines, thus creating complicated jurisdictional issues concerning taxation, service delivery, and economic development activities. Yet in rural areas, county governments are increasingly becoming the sole provider of services for larger and larger areas as populations continue to decrease.
U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2002 (Washington, DC: Department of Commerce, U.S. Census Bureau).