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Nurse Celina Monde, RN, tends to Joseph Trejo at his bedside at St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton, California on February 15, 2021. (Photo: Paul Bersebach/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images)

'Just Horrific': Pandemic Fuels Steepest Decline in US Life Expectancy Since WWII

"I myself had never seen a change this big except in the history books," said Elizabeth Arias, a CDC demographer.

Jake Johnson

New Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data out Wednesday shows that life expectancy in the U.S. fell by one and a half years in 2020, a decline fueled in large part by the deadly coronavirus pandemic.

"U.S. life expectancy at birth for 2020, based on nearly final data, was 77.3 years, the lowest it has been since 2003," reads a new report (pdf) from the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics. "Mortality due to Covid-19 had, by far, the single greatest effect on the decline in life expectancy at birth between 2019 and 2020, overall."

The new CDC figures indicate that 2020 saw the steepest single-year decline in life expectancy in the U.S.—from 78.8 years in 2019 to 77.3 last year—since World War II.

"I myself had never seen a change this big except in the history books," Elizabeth Arias, a CDC demographer and lead author of the new report, told the Wall Street Journal.

Given that they are more likely to work jobs with a high risk of coronavirus exposure and lack adequate healthcare, Black and Hispanic people have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and the resulting fall in life expectancy.

"Between 2019 and 2020, life expectancy decreased by 3 years for the Hispanic population (81.8 to 78.8)," the CDC found. "It decreased by 2.9 years for the non-Hispanic black population (74.7 to 71.8) and by 1.2 years for the non-Hispanic white population (78.8 to 77.6)."

Other factors contributing to the decline in life expectancy last year, according to the CDC, were drug overdoses, homicide, diabetes, and chronic liver disease and cirrhosis.

"It's horrific," Anne Case, a professor emeritus of economics and public affairs at Princeton University, told the Washington Post. "It's not entirely unexpected given what we have already seen about mortality rates as the year went on, but that still doesn't stop it from being just horrific, especially for non-Hispanic Blacks and for Hispanics."


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