Life expectancy in the US fell by 1.5 years in 2020. This was the biggest decline in a year since World War II, public health officials said Wednesday. The decline in blacks and Hispanics was even worse, at three years.
The decline, revealed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was mainly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which health officials say is responsible for nearly 74 percent of the overall decline in life expectancy. More than 3.3 million Americans died last year, far more than any other year in US history, with COVID-19 accounting for about 11 percent of those deaths.
Black life expectancy has not fallen so much in a year since the mid-1930s, during the Great Depression. Health officials have not followed Hispanic life expectancy that long, but the decline in 2020 was recorded as the largest one-year decline.
The sudden decline was “essentially catastrophic,” said Mark Hayward, a professor of sociology at the University of Texas who studies changes in mortality in the US.
Causes of death other than COVID-19 are also decisive. Drug overdose lowers life expectancy, especially in whites. The increase in homicides is a small but significant cause of the decline in life expectancy for blacks, said Elizabeth Arias, lead author of the report.
Other problems affecting blacks and Hispanics include a lack of access to quality health care, denser housing, and a growing number of people working for lower wages that require them to continue working during the worst of the pandemic, experts say.
Life expectancy is the average number of years a baby born in a given year is expected to live. This is an important statistical picture of health in a country that can be affected by ongoing trends such as obesity or the temporary threat of a pandemic or war, which may not harm the babies in their lives.
For decades, US life expectancy has increased. But the trend stalled in 2015 before hitting 78 years 10 months in 2019. Last year, according to the CDC, that figure dropped to about 77 years and four months. [uh/ab]