Life expectancy in the United States fell the most in more than seven decades last year when Covid-19 sent hundreds of thousands of Americans to premature deaths.
The disproportionate cost of the pandemic in communities of color also widened existing gaps in life expectancy between black and white Americans, according to estimates released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The account represents an extraordinarily grim account of an ongoing catastrophe. The first year of the pandemic dealt a stronger blow to American life expectancy than any year during the Vietnam War, the AIDS crisis, or the “deaths of despair” that reduced life expectancy in the mid-2010s. .
“It’s amazing and depressing,” said Noreen Goldman, professor of demography and public affairs at Princeton University. “The United States lags behind virtually all high-income countries in life expectancy, and is now lagging further behind.”
The pace of deaths from Covid-19 dropped dramatically as vaccines were rolled out in the first half of 2021. But it is unclear how long it will take for life expectancy to recover. The United States has recorded a total of 609,000 deaths from Covid since the pandemic began. More than 43% occurred in 2021, with almost half the year to come.
The first year of the pandemic reduced the life expectancy of Americans at birth by 1.5 years, to 77.3 years. That wiped out the country’s earnings since 2003. It was the biggest annual drop since 1943, in the middle of World War II. Goldman said it was the second-largest decline since the 1918 influenza pandemic, which is believed to have delicate about 50 million people around the world.
The 2020 pandemic decline widened the distance between the United States and other wealthy democracies such as France, Israel, South Korea and the United Kingdom, according to investigate recently posted on The BMJ daily.
“This is not a decline that happened in other high-income countries, so something went terribly wrong in the US, where the number of Americans who died was much higher than necessary,” said Steven Woolf, director emeritus. from the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University and one of the authors of the BMJ study.
Life expectancy is a statistical construction that reflects mortality rates at a given place and time. The CDC report describes life expectancy at birth as the “average number of years a group of babies would live if they experienced the age-specific death rates prevailing over a lifetime.” It is not intended to predict the actual life expectancy that people born in that period will experience. Rather, it is a way of comparing death rates between geographies and years.
Covid accounted for three-quarters of the decline in 2020. Unintentional injuries, a category that includes record fatal drug overdoses By 2020, the measure also dragged, as did homicides, diabetes and liver disease. The drop would have been steeper had it not been offset by fewer deaths from other factors, such as cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, heart disease and suicide.
All demographic groups saw declines in life expectancy in 2020. But the declines were not evenly distributed. Men lost more ground than women. Hispanic Americans, who have a longer life expectancy than white or black Americans, posted the biggest losses during Covid, with a three-year life expectancy drop, twice the rate for the country as a whole.
African Americans also had a life expectancy loss of 2.9 years. That decline widened the gap between blacks and whites in the US, a disparity in life expectancy that had narrowed since the 1990s. White Americans’ life expectancy dropped by 1.2 years. in 2020.
“There is no biological reason for people of a certain skin color to die from higher rates of the virus,” Woolf said, noting that the disparate impact reflects structural inequalities.
Biased representation in front-line jobs such as retail, meatpacking, transportation, and healthcare, combined with higher rates of chronic conditions, places people of color at higher risk of exposure to Covid and a increased risk of dying from it, Goldman said.
Unequal access to health care, language barriers, and crowded or multigenerational housing also contributed to the disproportionate cost of the virus in Hispanic and black populations, he said.
Estimates released by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics reflect data from death certificates reported by states and cities. The report did not include data on Asian American, American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, and other Pacific Islander populations.
As alarming as the one-year drop in life expectancy in 2020 is, Woolf said more attention should be paid to the decades-long gap in life expectancy that has shortened more American lives than Covid.
In the 20th century, life expectancy generally increased in rich countries as science and sanitation helped beat infectious diseases. In the US, worrying signs emerged in the 1990s that the country was not keeping up with the advances of other nations in the measure. This divergence became known as the USA. health disadvantage.
“The bigger problem than the acute event that we are seeing right now in life expectancy is the long-term trend,” Woolf said. “That is much scarier for the US than we are reporting for 2020, oddly enough.”
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