How Much of the U.S. is Inhabited?

by | Feb 25, 2021

I miss traveling. I’ve only been on a plane one time in the last year. While I usually pick aisle seats on a plane, when I do sit by the window I am always struck by how much of the country seems to be undeveloped. Is that true? Yes.

The Continental U.S. (i.e. lower 48) has about 1.9 Billion acres and the vast majority is undeveloped as only 69.4 million acres, or about 3.6% is urban. Here’s a fascinating map that shows how little land we live on; the green areas show U.S. Census blocks where the reported human population is zero (source):


How do we use all that land we’re not living on? Here’s how we use our land in the U.S. (from Bloomberg):


If you take all the above blocks (each representing 250,000 acres) and group them together, this is how U.S. land usage works out:


Our biggest use of land relates to livestock. Nearly 41% of U.S. land is used for grazing or growing food for livestock to consume. While urban land is a small percentage, it’s the fastest growing: ” In the past 10 years, it’s been growing at a rate of about 1 million acres per year. So that’s the size of about Phoenix and LA and Houston combined, every year, growing in urban area.” Source.

I found this illustration surprising (again from Bloomberg), showing the relatively small amount of cropland that is actually used to feed humans (ignoring the cropland that is dedicated to feeding livestock):


(Imagine if we all became vegetarian – or at least ate less meat!)

A final interesting chart is how land is used worldwide. About half of all habitable land is used in farming:



  1. Very interesting! I noticed several areas of the zero population map as large bodies of water (Everglades, Mississippi River, etc.).

    Something else I read awhile back that I find interesting, and this IFOD brought to mind:
    Ree Drummond (The Pioneer Woman) is one of the largest landowners in the US (at least as recently as 2016), surpassing Jeff Bezos and the Koch family to rank #23. It’s family land that she inherited from her ancestors. Most of it is ranch land in Oklahoma and Kansas. They rent a portion of it to the US Government to allow wild horses run free and receives a couple million dollars a year to do so.

  2. Sometimes I feel that our system of currency is broken but can’t see it as any other way.
    Ethier way it’s too most likely too late to make a change. Humans are stuck with this even if we tried.

  3. Sometimes I feel that our system of currency is broken but can’t see it as any other way.
    Ethier way it’s too most likely too late to make a change humans are stuck with this even if we tried.

  4. 1. Most range land/pasture not suitable for crop production.
    2. If we are grass finished beef like the South Americans we could decrease grain and water use for meat production. Recently toured Argentina. Their grass fed beef was outstanding.
    3. Globally we are losing thousands of tillable acres each year to urban sprawl. We need to continue to implement better production techniques to meet the global need for protein. Wheat remains the number one source of protein in the world. Well grown Midwest wheat is good for the US economy and essential for world nutritional needs.

  5. Depends on what you mean by “undeveloped.” Most agricultural land, cropped and pasture, doesn’t in any way resemble its original condition. it’s highly manipulated. I agree that it is not inhabited.


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