It’s already known that 2020 was the deadliest year in US history, with deaths topping 3MM for the first time. But the latest batch of morbid data is in, and they suggest things are about to get worse on average as life expectancy in the US dropped a full year during the first half of the year.
Life expectancy is a statistical measure of the average time a baby born today is expected to live. From January through June of last year, that was 77.8 years for the entire U.S. population, down from 78.8 years in 2019. It’s the lowest level since 2006, the report said.
Life expectancy had been steadily decreasing since it reached its record peak of 78.9 in 2014, in large part due to increased drug overdose deaths, unhealthy lifestyles and suicides in the country. The CDC noted a decrease in drug overdose deaths in 2018, contributing to a higher life expectancy. Other factors include a 2.2 percent decrease in cancer deaths, as well as a decrease in unintentional deaths for the year.
Suicide rates are also continuing to rise, with a 1.4 percent increase between 2017 and 2018 in the country. The U.S. has perennially held one of the highest rates of suicide in the world.
But the pandemic added hundreds of thousands of deaths to the total and pandemic-driven restrictions have drastically weighed on future expectations.
“What is really quite striking in these numbers is that they only reflect the first half of the year…I would expect that these numbers would only get worse,” said Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, a health equity researcher and dean at the University of California, San Francisco.
This is the first time the CDC has released data on partial life expectancy records, and we’re still waiting on a final tally. But the fact that this past year was the deadliest yet has already been made clear, as the chart below illustrates the drop.
What’s almost as shocking: white Americans saw their life expectancy advantage vs black Americans increase by a staggering 46%, from 4.1 to 6 years, reversing a trend that had been narrowing the gap between the two races since 1993.
This should not be a total shock as we reported previously that studies showed that pandemic-driven restrictions will impact life-expectancy for black Americans for years, considerably more than for other racial groups.
A recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research has found that, for the overall population, the increase in the death rate following the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown policies implies a staggering 0.89 and 1.37 million excess deaths over the next 15 and 20 years, respectively. These numbers correspond to 0.24% and 0.37% of the projected US population at the 15- and 20-year horizons, respectively.
However, for African-Americans, we estimate 180 thousand and 270 thousand excess deaths over the next 15 and 20 years, respectively. These numbers correspond to 0.34% and 0.49% of the projected African-American population at the 15- and 20-year horizons, respectively.
For Whites, we estimate 0.82 and 1.21 million excess deaths over the next 15 and 20 years, respectively. These numbers correspond to 0.30% and 0.44% of the projected White population at the 15- and 20-year horizons, respectively.
These numbers are roughly equally split between men and women.
African-Americans experience larger unemployment shocks and the effects of these shocks on unemployment are more persistent. Conditional on the same race, the shocks for women are smaller. The effects on life expectancy and death rates are more severe for African-Americans, overall.
Fortunately, Hispanic Americans have traditionally seen the most longevity compared with other racial and ethnic groups in the US, and provisional estimates show they still do.
Conversely, the gap between Hispanic Americans and white Americans decreased by 37%, from 3 to 1.9 years.
Men got hit the worst, as their life expectancy fell 1.2 years over the same period (from 76.3 to 75.1), while for women it declined just under a year (from 81.4 to 80.5), according to the report.
The provisional estimates were calculated by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics using death records in the US from January through June 2020.
Although the mortality data used in the report includes more than 99% of the deaths that occurred during that period, the report noted that the estimates “do not reflect the entirety of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.”