Life expectancy within the U.S. declined in 2020, particularly amongst individuals of coloration

A woman looks at the “Naming the Lost Memorials,” as the U.S. deaths from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are expected to surpass 600,000, at The Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, U.S., June 10, 2021.

Brendan McDermid | Reuters

The Covid-19 pandemic drove average life expectancies in the U.S. down by about a year and a half last year, marking the largest one-year decline since World War II, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Americans are now expected to live an average of 77.3 years, down from 78.8 years in 2019, according the report released Wednesday by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. Hispanics saw the biggest drop in life expectancy last year, followed by Black Americans.

“The decline in life expectancy between 2019 and 2020 can primarily be attributed to deaths from the pandemic,” the report reads. Covid deaths accounted for nearly 75% of the decline. More than 609,000 Americans have died in the pandemic so far, roughly 375,000 of those lives were lost last year, according to the CDC.

About 11% of the decline stems from a rise in deaths from accidents or unintentional injuries. Drug overdose deaths, which spiked 30% during the pandemic, made up about one-third of unintentional injuries last year.

Life expectancy for American males declined 1.8 years from 2019 to 2020, while life expectancy for American women dropped by 1.2 years from 2019.

“The difference in life expectancy between the sexes was 5.7 years in 2020, increasing from 5.1 in 2019,
the report read.

Hispanic Americans usually have a longer life expectancy than non-Hispanic Black or white folks, but life expectancy for Hispanics declined more than any other ethnic group last year, according to the report. Life expectancy among all Hispanics declined by three years from 81.8 years in 2019 to 78.8 years in 2020. Hispanic males suffered a drop of 3.7 years in 2020.

“Covid-19 was responsible for 90% of the decline in life expectancy for the Hispanic population,” the report reads.

The narrowing of the life expectancy gap between the white population and the Hispanic population “is a stark indicator of worsening health and mortality outcomes for a population that paradoxically has been, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, able to defy expectations consistent with its disadvantaged socioeconomic profile,” the report read.

Black Americans experienced the second-largest decline in life expectancy with a drop of almost 3 years from 74.7 years in 2019 to 71.8 years in 2020, the lowest since 2000, according to the report. Covid-19 was responsible for 59% of the drop in life expectancy among Blacks.

Among white Americans, life expectancy fell 1.2 years in 2020 from 78.8 years in 2020 to 77.6 years, the lowest since 2002. Covid-19 was responsible for 68% of the life expectancy drop among whites last year.

Covid-19 was the third-leading cause of death last year, and “overall death rates were highest among non-Hispanic Black persons and non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native persons,” the CDC said in its provisional mortality report in April.

Life expectancy for Black Americans has consistently trailed behind whites, but the last time that the gap in life expectancy between Black and white people was this large was in 1999, according to the report.

Other factors that contributed to the decline in life expectancy in 2020 include homicides which accounted for at 3% of the decline, as well as diabetes and chronic liver disease at 2.5% and 2.3% respectively.

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