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Life Expectancy Sharply Declined In 2020, Affecting Black And Latinx Americans The Most

The COVID-19 pandemic caused the most dramatic decrease in life expectancy since World War II.

An EMT administers a COVID-19 vaccination dose to a patient on July 16, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. | Getty Images
An EMT administers a COVID-19 vaccination dose to a patient on July 16, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. | Getty Images

The COVID-19 pandemic caused life expectancy in the U.S. to reach the lowest it’s been since 2003, disproportionately affecting Black and Latinx communities the most, recent data shows.

In a report published Wednesday by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), an organization within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, life expectancy from birth in 2020 was 77.3 years — a decline of 1.5 years from 2019.

The decrease in such a short time period is the sharpest decline since World War II, according to multiple reports.

The NCHS analysis states that life expectancy had a more dramatic decrease for people of color. The life expectancy for the Hispanic population between 2019 and 2020 was three years, or down to 78.8 from 81.8. The non-Hispanic Black population saw a decrease of 2.9 years, down to 74.7 to 71.8. White American’s life expectancy decreased by 1.2 years.

In all three racial groups, the report showed that men overall had a slightly larger decrease at 1.8 years, compared to women, which declined by 1.2 years.

The data presented in the report matches what other statistics showed throughout the pandemic — that the COVID-19 virus disproportionately affected communities of color. The NCHS report confirmed that COVID-19 had “the single greatest effect on the decline in life expectancy” overall in the U.S., followed by unintentional injuries, homicide, diabetes, and chronic liver disease and cirrhosis.

For the Hispanic population, 90% of the negative decline in life expectancy was due to COVID-19.

“People of color are significantly less likely to have work that can be done remotely during this pandemic,” Dr. Carolyn M. Mazure, Director of Women’s Health Research at Yale said in a report in September. “The greater risk this entails is one of the many reasons why people of color are suffering greater negative outcomes of this disease, including greater health risks stemming from decades of disparity in access to equitable resources including health care. As we confront COVID-19, we must remedy the systemic inequities that continue to exist in our society.”

According to the NCHS report, life expectancy for Black Americans has consistently been lower than the white population but has narrowed within the last three decades, but the analysis notes: “The last time the gap in life expectancy between the white and Black populations was this large was in 1999.”

Fatal drug overdoses hit a record high in 2020, with more than 93,000 deaths, according to the NCHS. The organization noted in its life expectancy report that unintentional injury deaths were “largely driven” by overdoses.

Despite more than 57% of people over the age of 12 in the U.S. being fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the CDC, the mutated delta variant has posed a concern about immunity. The NCHS and other experts are not sure if the decline in life expectancy will be short-term or persist as the coronavirus continues to spread worldwide.

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