The COVID-19 pandemic was largely responsible for shaving a year and a half from the life expectancy of Americans in 2020, according to federal statistics released today. The 18-month expectancy drop is the steepest in the United States since World War II. These staggering statistics quantified the toll that the pandemic, which has killed more than 600,00 Americans and has, at times, pushed the health system to its limits.
An American child born today, if they hypothetically lived their entire life under the conditions we had in 2020, would be expected to live 77.3 years, down from 78.8 in 2019.
2020 also deepened racial and ethnic disparities in life expectancy, with Black and Hispanic Americans losing nearly two more years than white Americans. Life expectancy for Hispanic Americans dropped to 78.8 from 81.8, while the numbers for Black Americans dropped to 71.8 from 74.7. Non-Hispanic white Americans saw their life expectancy drop to 77.6 from 78.8.
Measuring life expectancy is not intended to precisely predict actual life spans. Rather, it’s a measure of a population’s health, revealing either society-wide distress or advancement.
The good news is that the drop in 2020 is not likely to be permanent. In 1918, the flu pandemic wiped 11.8 years from Americans’ life expectancy, but the number fully rebounded the following year.
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