“We haven’t seen a decline of that magnitude in decades.”
In 2019, the average life expectancy in the United States was 78.8 years — decently high for a developed country, though the average was closer to 80 in a handful of other wealthy nations.
Then the pandemic struck. As new data from the National Center for Health Statistics shows, it took a severe toll on life expectancy in the United States. In the first half of 2020, U.S. life expectancy decreased by a full year, dropping to 77.8 years. Covid-19 deaths and deaths by drug overdose are the major drivers of this change.
Such a drop has not been seen since World War II, note Sabrina Tavernise and Abby Goodnough in the New York Times: “Life expectancy is the most basic measure of the health of a population, and the stark decline over such a short period is highly unusual and a signal of deep distress,” they write.
Even more troubling is the racial breakdown of the changes in life expectancy. Taking only data on Black Americans into account, the decrease in life expectancy in the first half of 2020 is 2.7 years. This reflects the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on Black Americans that has been documented throughout the pandemic.
The gap in life expectancy between Black and white Americans, Tavernise and Goodnough write, “is now at six years, the widest it has been since 1998.”
Read more about the new data on the New York Times: