NEW YORK – US life expectancy fell by a year and a half in 2020, the biggest one-year drop since World War II, public health officials said on Wednesday. For both black Americans and Hispanic Americans the shortfall was even worse: three years.
The decline reported by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is mainly thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, which health officials said has been responsible for a nearly 74% drop in overall 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% of those deaths.
Black life expectancy has not declined so much in one year since the mid-1930s during the Great Depression. Health officials haven’t tracked Hispanic life expectancy nearly as long, but the fall in 2020 was the biggest drop in a year recorded.
The sudden drop is “basically catastrophic,” said Mark Hayward, a Texas sociology professor who studies changes in US mortality rates.
Killers other than COVID-19 played a role. Drug overdoses pushed life expectancy down, especially for whites. The report’s lead author, Elizabeth Arias, said the rising murders were a small but significant reason for the decline of black Americans.
Experts said other problems affected black and Hispanic people, including a lack of access to quality health care, over-crowded living conditions and a greater proportion of the population in low-paying jobs, when the pandemic was at its worst. When I was there, she had to work. .
Life expectancy is an estimate of the average number of children born in a given year that can be expected to survive. It is an important statistical snapshot of a country’s health that can be affected by continuing trends such as obesity, as well as more temporary threats such as pandemics or wars that may not put those newborns at risk in their lifetime.
For decades, American life expectancy was rising. But the trend stalled for several years, in 2015, before reaching 78 years, 10 months in 2019. Last year, the CDC said, it fell to about 77 years, 4 months.
Other findings in the new CDC report:
Hispanic Americans have longer life expectancies than white or black Americans, but they had the biggest decline in 2020. The three-year drop was the biggest since the CDC began tracking Hispanic life expectancy 15 years ago.
– Black life expectancy fell nearly three years to 71 years, 10 months. It hasn’t been that low since 2000.
– White life expectancy fell by about 14 months to about 77 years, 7 months. This was the lowest life expectancy for that population since 2002.
The role of COVID-19 varies by race and ethnicity. The coronavirus was responsible for a 90% drop in life expectancy among Hispanics, 68% among white people and 59% in black Americans.
— Life expectancy fell by about two years for men, but nearly one year for women, widening the long-standing gap. The CDC estimated life expectancy at 74 years, 6 months versus 80 years for boys, 2 months for girls.
CDC data shows that more than 80% of last year’s COVID deaths were of people 65 and older. It actually lessened the epidemic’s toll on life expectancy at birth, which is more affected by the death of younger adults and children than seniors.
So last year’s decline was half that of the three-year decline between 1942 and 1943, when young soldiers were being killed in World War II. And this was only a fraction of the decline between 1917 and 1918, when World War I and a Spanish flu pandemic ravaged younger generations.
Life expectancy bounced back after those drops, and experts believe it will this time as well. But some said it could take years.
Some experts said many people have already died from COVID-19 this year, while variants of the coronavirus are spreading among unvaccinated Americans – many of them young adults.
“We can’t. In 2021, we can’t go back to pre-pandemic” life expectancy, said Princeton University researcher Noreen Goldman.