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Life expectancy in the United States suffered a “catastrophic” blow last year, the highest since World War II

Life expectancy in the United States fell by a year and a half in 2020, the biggest year-over-year drop since World War II, public health officials said on Wednesday. The decrease for black Americans and Hispanics was even worse: three years.

The decline announced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is mainly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which health officials say is responsible for nearly 74% of the overall decline in life expectancy. More than 3.3 million Americans died last year, far more than any other year in U.S. history, with COVID-19 accounting for about 11% of those deaths.

Black life expectancy has not declined as much in a year since the mid-1930s, during the Great Depression. Health officials haven’t tracked the life expectancies of Hispanics for almost as long, but the 2020 drop was the biggest drop in a year.

The sharp drop is “fundamentally catastrophic,” said Mark Hayward, a sociology professor at the University of Texas who studies changes in mortality in the United States.

Killers other than COVID-19 have played a role. Drug overdoses have lowered life expectancy, especially for whites. And the rise in homicides was a small but important reason for the decline of black Americans, said Elizabeth Arias, lead author of the report.

Other issues affected blacks and Hispanics, including lack of access to quality health care, more crowded living conditions, and a greater proportion of the population in lower-paying jobs that required them to continue to work when the pandemic was at its peak, experts said. .

Life expectancy is an estimate of the average number of years a baby born in a given year can expect to live. This is an important statistical snapshot of the health of a country which can be influenced both by sustained trends such as obesity as well as by more temporary threats such as pandemics or wars that may not exist. not endanger these newborns during their lifetime.

For decades, life expectancy in the United States was on the rise. But that trend stopped in 2015, for several years, before reaching 78 years and 10 months in 2019. Last year, according to the CDC, it fell to around 77 years and 4 months.

Other findings from the new CDC report:

– Hispanic Americans have a longer life expectancy than white or black Americans, but saw the largest decline in 2020. The three-year decline was the largest since the CDC began tracking life expectancy of Hispanics 15 years ago.

– Black life expectancy has dropped by almost three years, to 71 years and 10 months. It hasn’t been this low since 2000.

– White life expectancy has decreased from around 14 months to around 77 years, 7 months. This was the lowest life expectancy for this population since 2002.

– The role of COVID-19 varied by race and ethnicity. The coronavirus was responsible for 90% of the decline in life expectancy among Hispanics, 68% among whites and 59% among black Americans.

– Life expectancy has fallen by almost two years for men, but by about a year for women, widening a long-standing gap. The CDC estimated life expectancy at 74 years, 6 months for boys compared to 80 years, 2 months for girls.

More than 80% of COVID deaths last year were people 65 and older, according to CDC data. It has in fact reduced the pandemic’s toll on life expectancy at birth, which is influenced more by the deaths of younger adults and children than by those of the elderly.

That’s why last year’s drop was only half the three-year drop between 1942 and 1943, when young soldiers died in World War II. And that was only a fraction of the drop between 1917 and 1918, when World War I and a Spanish flu pandemic devastated the younger generations.

Life expectancy has rebounded from those declines, and experts believe it will also be this time around. But some have said it could take years.

Too many people have already died from COVID-19 this year, while coronavirus variants spread among unvaccinated Americans – many of them are young adults, some experts have said.

“We can’t. In 2021, we can’t go back to pre-pandemic life expectancy,” said Noreen Goldman, a researcher at Princeton University.


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