Life Expectancy In U.S. Drops Most Since WWII
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 12: A worker walks at a large scale COVID-19 vaccination site under construction at Cal State Los Angeles on February 12, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. The vaccine center will be focused on people with limited access to transportation and those from vulnerable communities and is expected to open February 16. The site will be staffed by mostly federal government workers including officials from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Mario Tama/Getty Images via Getty Images

The CDC recently released a report on life expectancy estimates in the United States using data from the first half of 2020 showing that life expectancy dropped an entire year. This is a significant decrease. In 2019, it had increased for the second year in a row.

The Associated Press reports, “Life expectancy is how long a baby born today can expect to live, on average. In the first half of 2020, life expectancy at birth for the total U.S. population was 77.8 years, declining by 1.0 year from 78.8 in 2019.”

Health experts mainly attribute this to the pandemic, adding that the results from the second half of the year are not yet known. Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo is a health equity researcher and dean at the University of California, San Francisco. “I would expect that these numbers would only get worse,” Dr. Bibbins-Domingo said, according to the AP.

Robert Anderson oversees the numbers for the CDC. He said, “This is a huge decline. … You have to go back to World War II, the 1940s, to find a decline like this.”

Health experts have also said that these numbers show the devastating overall effects of COVID-19, not just due to deaths from the virus itself, but also from complications of other health problems, such as cancer, heart disease, and more.

The CDC report states, “Life expectancy at birth for males was 75.1 years in the first half of 2020, representing a decline of 1.2 years from 76.3 years in 2019. For females, life expectancy declined to 80.5 years, decreasing 0.9 year from 81.4 years in 2019.”

The worst impact was on minorities, according to the AP, “with Black Americans losing nearly three years and Hispanics, nearly two years, according to preliminary estimates …”

“Black and Hispanic communities throughout the United States have borne the brunt of this pandemic,” Bibbins-Domingo said.

The CDC report includes more information on the numbers among different races. “Regardless of Hispanic origin, life expectancy for the black population has consistently been lower than that of the white population but the gap between the two races had generally been narrowing since 1993 when it was 7.1.” In the first half of 2020, the life expectancy difference between black and white members of the population was 6 years, which is the largest since 1998.

The New York Times reported on the impact that the coronavirus has had on minority communities:

Over all, the death rate for Black Americans with Covid-19 was almost two times higher than for white Americans as of late January, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; the death rate for Hispanics was 2.3 times higher than for white Americans.

Dr. Mary T. Bassett is a former New York City health commissioner and professor of health and human rights at Harvard University.

According to The New York Times, she “said that unless the country better addressed inequality, ‘we may see U.S. life expectancy stagnate or decline for some time to come.’ … She said the coronavirus mortality rate for Black people between the ages of 35 and 44, for example, was ninefold greater than for white people in the same age group, according to data from last February through July.”

The AP reports that Dr. Bibbins-Domingo also pointed to the CDC statistics as a reason for more equity in vaccine distribution:

More needs to be done to distribute vaccines equitably, to improve working conditions and better protect minorities from infection, and to include them in economic relief measures, she said.

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