Life expectancy in the United States fell a year and a half in 2020, the biggest annual decline since World War II, public health officials said Wednesday. For Black and Hispanic Americans, the drop was worse: three years.
The decline reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is mainly due to the coronavirus pandemic, which according to health authorities is responsible for about 74% of the general decrease in life expectancy.
More of 3.3 million Americans died last year, many more than in any other year in the country’s history, and COVID-19 was responsible for around the 11% of those deaths.
Life expectancy among African-Americans hadn’t dropped that much in one year since the mid-1930s, during the Great Depression. Health authorities haven’t tracked data in the Hispanic community for so long, but the 2020 drop was the biggest one-year drop ever.
This steep descent is “basically catastrophic”, said Mark Hayward, a sociology professor at the University of Texas who studies changes in mortality across the country.
Beyond COVID-19, behind this decline there are other factors. The drug overdose they lowered life expectancy, especially among whites. And the increase in homicides it was a small but significant cause in the case of African Americans, explained Elizabeth Arias, the lead author of the report.
Other problems affected blacks and Hispanics, such as lack of access to medical care quality, more overcrowded living conditions, and a higher percentage of the population with low-paid jobs, which meant that keep working at the worst moment of the pandemic, experts said.
Life expectancy is an estimate of the average number of years a baby could live born in a certain year. It is an important statistical X-ray of the health of a country that can be influenced both by trends that are sustained over time, such as obesity, and by more temporary threats, such as pandemics or wars, that may not endanger these newborns in his life.
For decades, life expectancy in the United States was on the rise. But that trend stalled for several years in 2015 before reaching the 78 years and 10 months in 2019. Last year, according to the CDC, it dropped to around 77 years and 4 months.
Other findings in the new CDC report:
_Hispanics have a higher life expectancy than white or black Americans, but they suffered the biggest setback in 2020. The three-year drop was the largest since the CDC began tracking data for this community 15 years ago.
_Life expectancy for African-Americans fell by almost three years, to 71 years and 10 months. It wasn’t that low since 2000.
_In the case of whites, the decline was from about 14 months, to about 77 years and 7 months. It is the worst data for this sector of the population since 2002.
_The role of COVID-19 varied by race and ethnicity. The coronavirus was responsible for 90% of the decrease in life expectancy among Hispanics, 68% among whites, and 59% among blacks.
_Life expectancy fell by about two years for men and by about one for women, widening a historical gap. The CDC estimated a life expectancy of 74 years and 6 months for boys compared to 80 years and 2 months for girls.
More than 80% of deaths caused by COVID-19 last year were among those over 65, according to CDC data. This reduced the effects of the pandemic on life expectancy at birth, which is more marked by the deaths of young adults and children than those of the elderly.
The second war
This is why last year’s decline was only half the three-year decline recorded between 1942 and 1943, when World War II took the lives of young soldiers. And it was just one part of the decline caused between 1917 and 1918 by the effects of the First World War and the Spanish flu pandemic that devastated younger generations.
Life expectancy recovered after those setbacks, and experts believe that this time the same will happen. But some say it could take years.
Too many people have already died from COVID-19 so far this year, while variants of the coronavirus are spreading among Unvaccinated Americans, many of them young adults, some experts noted.
“We can’t. In 2021 we can’t go back to (life expectancy) before the pandemic,” said Noreen Goldman, a researcher at Princeton University.