The Outlaw is every place not under control of the federal government (“the Fed”). It’s every person who isn’t a citizen, much less a resident. It’s about half the population, 66% of the economy, and 75% of the territory.
The Outlaw is the lawless expanse.
How omnipresent is it? The seat of the national government is the former UN building in New York City. Close by is Central Park, the site of the largest open-air Outlaw market in the country. (You can buy and sell nearly anything in the Central Park Bazaar.) You can literally see the Outlaw from the upper floors of the Capitol Building.
But why? Why is so much of the country unorganized territory? Money and manpower.
All governments must have money. Income taxes are impossible to enforce — it’s too easy to make undeclared money through the Outlaw economy, even while living in the Fed (see Central Park, above). Fees and tariffs are an alternative, but official corruption means many go uncollected (greasing palms is a survival skill in 2039). Without fees or income taxes, the government is impoverished, meaning it can’t perform basic tasks (which corruption would make difficult in any case).
Residence fees are an effective solution, but endemic corruption in service bureaus and firms means most people are paying premium prices for shoddy work. Most people can get better services (cleaner water, better customer service, and so forth) via private companies or neighborhood associations (the “governments” in the jungle). So their fees go to those organizations, not the Fed.
This drives the best candidates (and the most motivated) to leave the Fed and join the hidden economy, where their abilities and efforts benefit Outlaw polities and Outlaw companies. As people leave the system for the Outlaw, their skills, knowledge, and experience travels with them, and the Fed economy shrinks, and the Fed has less money. It’s an ongoing brain drain.
The manpower problem is simple: the plague, the collapse, and the Emergence killed off 2/3rds of the country. The population has grown slightly since then, but not enough to allow the Fed to colonize the vast lands outside their purview, especially given the ongoing losses to Outlaw polities. There are few people for the Fed to use as police and soldiers.
Civil order cannot be imposed by a token police force. It can only exist when people voluntarily obey the law, or there is sufficient force to impose it. In 2039 America, most people don’t voluntarily obey Fed laws (even the rich and powerful subvert the law when they see fit) and the Fed cannot field enough soldiers or cops to impose them.
Without sufficient forces and materiel, the Fed can’t protect its borders, not comprehensively, and in many cases Outlaw settlements thrive inside the Fed borders (as in New York City). In this situation, Outlaw settlements are parasitical: they are kept safe by the Fed, but leach away money and manpower.
Corruption leads to incompetence, and incompetence leads to people opting out. It is a vicious cycle that undermines the Fed’s efforts to normalize governance and restore American prestige and power. The Outlaw is bigger, in every measurable way, and becoming more-so every day.