Life expectancy in the United States fell by a year and a half in 2020, the biggest year-over-year drop since World War II, public health officials said on Wednesday. The decrease for black Americans and Hispanics was even worse: three years.
The decline announced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is mainly due to the pandemic, which health officials say is responsible for nearly 74% of the overall drop in life expectancy. More than 3.3 million Americans died last year, far more than any other year in US history, with Covid accounting for around 11% of those deaths.
The findings come as officials across the country are weighing the possibility of reinstating some of the more stringent efforts to fight the virus, including universal mask wear and vaccine work demands. Los Angeles County recently reinstated its indoor mask guidelines.
Black life expectancy has not declined as much in a year since the mid-1930s, during the Great Depression. Health officials haven’t tracked the life expectancies of Hispanics for almost as long, but the 2020 drop was the biggest drop in a year.
The sharp drop is “fundamentally catastrophic,” said Mark Hayward, a sociology professor at the University of Texas who studies changes in mortality in the United States.
Killers other than Covid played a role. Drug overdoses have lowered life expectancy, especially for whites. And the rise in homicides was a small but important reason for the decline of black Americans, said Elizabeth Arias, lead author of the report.
Other issues plagued blacks and Hispanics, including lack of access to quality health care, more crowded living conditions, and a greater proportion of the population in lower-paying jobs that required them to continue to work when the pandemic was at its peak, experts said. .
Life expectancy is an estimate of the average number of years a baby born in a given year can expect to live. This is an important statistical snapshot of the health of a country that can be influenced both by sustained trends such as obesity as well as by more temporary threats such as pandemics or wars that may not exist. not endanger these newborns during their lifetime.
For decades, life expectancy in the United States was on the rise. But that trend stopped in 2015, for several years, before reaching 78 years and 10 months in 2019. Last year, according to the CDC, it fell to around 77 years and four months.
More than 80% of Covid deaths last year were in people 65 and over, according to CDC data.
This has in fact reduced the pandemic’s toll on life expectancy at birth, which is influenced more by the deaths of younger adults and children than by those of the elderly.
That’s why last year’s drop was only half the three-year drop between 1942 and 1943, when young soldiers died in the war. And that was only a fraction of the drop between 1917 and 1918, when the First War and a Spanish flu pandemic devastated the younger generations.
Life expectancy has rebounded from those declines, and experts believe it will be this time around as well. But some have said it could take years.