The Slatest

U.S. Life Expectancy Falls by a Full Year in First Half of 2020

A first responder vaccinates a woman through the window of her car.
A first responder vaccinates a woman in her car at a vaccination center in Londonderry, New Hampshire, on Feb. 4. Joseph Prezioso/Getty Images

New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday showed that life expectancy in the U.S. dropped by a full year in first half of 2020, yet another reminder of the devastating toll COVID-19 has exacted. The one-year drop in the average number of years an American, at birth, can expect to live to 77.8 years (down from 78.8 years in 2019) is the largest decline since World War II. That data from the National Center for Health Statistics, which is part of the CDC, only accounts for the first six months of 2020, which means the decline in life expectancy, a measurement of the nation’s health as a whole, will likely plummet even further, as the pandemic turned more deadly as the year wore on.

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Within the overall numbers is an even bleaker health disparity for communities of color; the life expectancy of Black Americans fell by 2.7 years in 2020 (to 72 years) and Latinos lost 1.9 years (falling to 79.9), while the expected life span of white Americans dropped 0.8 years (to 78 years). The racial disparity was stunning for the researchers involved in the report, like Elizabeth Arias, lead author of the paper, who told the New York Times, “I knew it was going to be large, but when I saw those numbers, I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ ”

The U.S. death toll is approaching 500,000 people approximately a year into the pandemic, but the brunt of the virus has not been spread equally. Communities of color have been hit particularly hard for a number of reasons. “Some have high populations of essential workers who cannot avoid the virus in their jobs or who live in multigenerational homes,” the Washington Post notes. “Black and Latino Americans are more likely to have poorer access to health care, including coronavirus testing, and have underlying health conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, that increase their vulnerability to covid-19.”

The number of deaths not directly linked to the coronavirus also rose as people avoided seeking medical care for conditions such as strokes or cancer. While the life expectancy in the U.S. is expected to recover after the pandemic subsides, experts say its impact on minority communities could linger, dragging down the country’s health indicators as a whole. Over the past decade, even before the pandemic hit, the U.S. had already fallen behind other G-7 countries in life expectancy.

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