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US Life Expectancy Plunge Is 'Basically Catastrophic'

It fell by 1.5 years last year, even more for Black and Hispanic Americans
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 21, 2021 12:54 AM CDT

(Newser) – US life expectancy fell by a year and a half in 2020, the largest one-year decline since World War II, public health officials said Wednesday. The decrease for both Black Americans and Hispanic Americans was even worse: three years. The drop spelled out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is due mainly to the COVID-19 pandemic, which health officials said is responsible for close to 74% of the overall life expectancy decline, the AP reports. More than 3.3 million Americans died last year, far more than any other year in US history, with COVID-19 accounting for about 11% of those deaths. Black life expectancy has not fallen so much in one year since the mid-1930s, during the Great Depression. Health officials have not tracked Hispanic life expectancy for nearly as long, but the 2020 decline was the largest recorded one-year drop.

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The abrupt fall is “basically catastrophic,” said Mark Hayward, a University of Texas sociology professor who studies changes in US mortality. Killers other than COVID-19 played a role. Drug overdoses pushed life expectancy down, particularly for whites. 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. For decades, US life expectancy was on the upswing. But 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. COVID-19's role varied by race and ethnicity. The coronavirus was responsible for 90% of the decline in life expectancy among Hispanics, 68% among white people, and 59% among Black Americans.

(Read more life expectancy stories.)

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