U.S. life expectancy fell by a year and a half in 2020, the largest one-year decline since World War II.
The decrease for both Black Americans and Hispanic Americans was even worse: three years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the calculations for 2020 early Wednesday. The drop is due mainly to the COVID-19 pandemic, which health officials say is responsible for close to 74% of the overall life expectancy decline. Killers other than COVID-19 played a role. Drug overdoses pushed life expectancy down, particularly for whites. And rising homicides were a small but significant reason for the decline for Black Americans, said Elizabeth Arias, the report’s lead author.
Other problems affected Black and Hispanic people, including lack of access to quality health care, more crowded living conditions, and a greater share of the population in lower-paying jobs that required them to keep working when the pandemic was at its worst, experts said. Life expectancy is an estimate of the average number of years a baby born in a given year might expect to live.
It’s an important statistical snapshot of a country’s health that can be influenced both by sustained trends such as obesity as well as more temporary threats like pandemics or war that might not endanger those newborns in their lifetimes. For many decades, U.S. life expectancy was on the rise. However, that trend stalled in 2015, for several years, before hitting 78 years, 10 months in 2019. Last year, the CDC said, it dropped to about 77 years, 4 months.