The Covid-19 pandemic cut average life expectancy in the United States by about 18 months in the past year, which is the largest annual decline since World War II, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to the report released Wednesday by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, Americans are now expected to live an average of 77.3 years, down from 78.8 years in 2019. Hispanics saw the sharpest decline in life expectancy last year, followed by black Americans.
“The decline in life expectancy between 2019 and 2020 is primarily due to deaths from the pandemic,” the report said. Covid deaths accounted for nearly 75% of the decline. More than 609,000 Americans have died in the pandemic, including about 375,000 last year, according to the CDC.
About 11% of the decrease is due to an increase in deaths from accidents or accidental injuries. Drug overdose deaths, which increased by 30% during the pandemic, accounted for about a third of accidental injuries last year.
The life expectancy of American men decreased 1.8 years from 2019 to 2020, while the life expectancy of American women decreased 1.2 years from 2019.
“The difference in life expectancy between the sexes was 5.7 years in 2020, increasing from 5.1 in 2019,
said the report.
Hispanic Americans typically have longer life expectancies than non-Hispanic blacks or whites, but according to the report, Hispanic life expectancy declined more than any other ethnic group in the past year. The life expectancy of all Hispanics decreased by three years, from 81.8 years in 2019 to 78.8 years in 2020. Male Hispanics suffered a 3.7 year decrease in 2020.
“Covid-19 was responsible for 90% of the decline in life expectancy in the Hispanic population,” the report said.
The narrowing of the life expectancy gap between white and Hispanic populations “is a strong indicator of the deterioration in the health and mortality results of a population that paradoxically before the Covid-19 pandemic was able to meet expectations coincide with their disadvantaged socio-economic profile. Said the report.
“You were at a higher risk of getting infected,” said Elizabeth Arias, the report’s lead author, in an interview. “People who work in the service sector could not telework.”
Hispanic and Black Americans are largely over-represented in jobs deemed essential during the pandemic lockdown, and at greater exposure to the virus than office workers who could work from home.
“These groups have been infected and that has a lot to do with their status in society,” said Arias.
Black Americans experienced the second largest decline in life expectancy, falling nearly three years from 74.7 years in 2019 to 71.8 years in 2020, the lowest level since 2000, the report said. Covid was responsible for 59% of the decline in life expectancy among blacks.
Life expectancy among white Americans fell 1.2 years in 2020, from 78.8 years in 2020 to 77.6 years, its lowest level since 2002. Covid-19 was responsible for 68% of the decline in whites last year .
Covid-19 was the third leading cause of death last year and “the overall death rate was highest among non-Hispanic blacks and non-Hispanic Native American or Alaskan people,” the CDC said in its preliminary mortality report in April.
The life expectancy of black Americans is consistently behind whites, but the last time the life expectancy gap between blacks and whites was this large was in 1999, according to the report.
“You would expect an infectious disease or pandemic to affect everyone … but it affected populations that differed by race and ethnicity,” said Arias.
Other factors that contributed to the 2020 decline in life expectancy include homicides, which accounted for 3% of the decline, and diabetes and chronic liver disease, which accounted for 2.5% and 2.3%, respectively.