The pandemic crushed life expectancy in the United States last year by 1.5 years, the largest drop since World War II, according to new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data released Wednesday. For Black and Hispanic people, their life expectancy declined by three years.
U.S. life expectancy declined from 78.8 years in 2019 to 77.3 years in 2020. The pandemic was responsible for close to 74 percent of that overall decline, though increased fatal drug overdoses and homicides also contributed.
“I myself had never seen a change this big except in the history books,” Elizabeth Arias, a demographer at the CDC and lead author of the new report, told The Wall Street Journal.
The declines were greatest among Black and Hispanic communities, which both suffered a hit of nearly three years compared to 2019. (For white Americans, life expectancy fell by 1.2 years to 77.6 years.) Black life expectancy fell to 71 years and ten months while expectancy among Latinos tumbled to 78 years and ten months.
“It is impossible to look at these findings and not see a reflection of the systemic racism in the U.S.,” Lesley Curtis, chair of the Department of Population Health Sciences at Duke University, told NPR. “The range of factors that play into this include income inequality, the social safety net, as well as racial inequality and access to health care.”