The average life expectancy in the US fell by one and a half years in 2020, according to the CDC. This drop in life expectancy represents the nation’s largest since World War II, and is due in large part to COVID-19.
The CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics found that COVID-19 made up 74% of the decline in life expectancy, which fell from 78.8 years in 2019 to 77.3 years last year.
The life expectancy for Black Americans declined nearly twice the national rate, 2.9 years, falling from 74.7 years in 2019 and 71.8 years in 2020, illustrating the disproportionate burden the COVID-19 pandemic has had on our communities.
Over the last 20 years, Black Americans had started to close the gap in longevity that existed in the US, but COVID-19 almost singularly wiped out that progress, The Los Angeles Times reported.
The CDC also found that drug overdoses were a large contributor to the decline in American life expectancy. In 2020, 93,000 people in the US died from drug overdoses, marking the highest number reported in one year. One study found fatal drug overdoses among Black Americans increased in 2020 compared to previous years.
Other contributors to the decline in average life expectancy were rises in homicides, deaths from chronic liver disease and diabetes.
Black Americans also died in more car accidents in 2020 than in other years, one study found.
Compared to 16 other countries, the US life expectancy decline was 8.5 times higher, and those declines were specifically seen among racially oppressed groups –– Black and Hispanic people.
“It’s impossible to look at these findings and not see a reflection of the systemic racism in the US,” Lesley Curtis, chair of the Department of Population 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 healthcare,” Curtis added.