Posted on Feb 18, 2021, 5 p.m.
The average life expectancy in America fell from 78.8 to 77.8 years in the first half of 2020, with Black and Hispanic Americans seeing larger drops than white Americans, according to a new report from the CDC.
According to The Vital Statistics Rapid Release Report, during the first few months of 2020, the life expectancy of the average American fell by one year, with life expectancy dropping from 78.8 years to 77.8 years, according to the report.
"This is a huge decline," Robert Anderson, who monitors life expectancy for the CDC, told the Associated Press. "You have to go back to World War II, the 1940s, to find a decline like this."
The report is based on data collected on deaths that occurred during the first six months of 2022 which includes deaths from all causes such as drug overdoses, suicide, COVID-19, heart attack, cancer, as well as all other causes.
According to the CDC, when the data was broken down it highlights the socioeconomic “worsening of racial and ethnic mortality disparities” in America finding:
- The life expectancy of non-Hispanic Black Americans dropped an average of 2.7 years, from 74.7 years to 72 years.
- The average life expectancy of a Black male American dropped by three years.
- The life expectancy of the Hispanic population dropped 1.9 years, from 81.8 years to 79.9 years.
- The life expectancy of white Americans dropped 0.8 years.
"Those are very large disparities, and it reflects that the pandemic affected these two minority groups much more than the majority population," Elizabeth Arias, a lead author of the paper, told The Washington Post. "They experienced the bulk of the mortality."
Dr. Mary T. Bassett, a professor of health and human rights at Harvard University, told The New York Times that between Feb-July 2020 Black people between the ages of 35-44 saw a death rate nine times higher than that of their White peers.
It is also worth noting that the data in the new study comes from the first six months of 2020, when the virus did its worst damage in a surge through the Northeast, which is home to large Black and Latino populations. Second and third surges swept wider swaths of the United States. Arias said that when her team examines a full year of data, she expects it will show a greater proportion of White deaths.
Since the middle of the 20th century, there have been small annual decreases in recent years caused mainly by deaths of despair from 2015-2017. But life expectancy had just previously begun increasing for all ethnic groups, between 2018-2019 the average life expectancy increased by 0.1 years, for the first time in 28 years.
“This is a big departure. We haven’t seen anything this large since the first half of the 20th century, when infectious disease was much more common,” said Elizabeth Arias, a health scientist for the NCHS.
According to the new report life expectancy of men across all ethnic groups declined more than that of women, men dropped 1.2 years while women’s life expectancy dropped 0.9 years.
Life expectancy also took a hit the last time the country experienced a pandemic, when during the Spanish Flu between 1917-1918 the average American lifespan plummeted 11.8 years, according to Elizabeth Arias, Ph.D., a lead author of the report.
“There is nothing good to be said,” said Anne Case, the Princeton economics professor who coined the term “deaths of despair” with her husband, Princeton economist Angus Deaton. “In addition to covid, we know that the drug epidemic continues to surge, as well.”
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