The life expectancy gap between blacks and whites is now the smallest in history, falling from seven years in 1990 to 3.4 years in 2014. According to 2014 data, African-Americans have a life expectancy of 75.6 years, while whites average 79 years, reports the New York Times. "The gap is now the narrowest it has been since the beginning of the 20th century, and that's really good news," says a demographer. An increase in opioid overdoses in white communities is partly responsible, but "there has been true progress for blacks," an epidemiologist at McGill University says. The homicide rate for blacks fell by 40% and the death rate from cancer dropped by 29% for blacks from 1995 to 2013. Those rates dropped 28% and 20%, respectively, among whites. Experts also cite a decline in black deaths from AIDS.
The suicide rate for black men has fallen by 8% from 1999 to 2014, according to the CDC, while infant mortality among blacks has fallen by about 20% since the late 1990s. The overall trend shows huge improvement since the 1900s, when life expectancy for blacks was 15 years less than for whites because of a slew of reasons, including limited access to medical care. "But we need to be very cautious," says a rep for the American Cancer Society. African-Americans still die of cancer, AIDS, heart disease, and homicide at higher rates than white people. In fact, "the excess in premature deaths among blacks is the equivalent of a jumbo jet crashing every day," reports the Times. (Read more life expectancy stories.)