Life expectancy in the United States dropped a staggering one year during the first half of 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic caused its first wave of deaths. Minorities suffered the biggest impact, with Black Americans losing nearly three years and Hispanics, nearly two years. Black people now lag white people by six years in life expectancy, reversing a trend that had been bringing their numbers closer since 1993. Between 2019 and the first half of 2020, life expectancy decreased 2.7 years for Black people, to 72. It dropped 1.9 years for Hispanics, to 79.9, and 0.8 years for white people, to 78.
“This is a huge decline,” said Robert Anderson, who oversees the numbers for the CDC. “You have to go back to World War II, the 1940s, to find a decline like this.”
“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. “Black and Hispanic communities throughout the United States have borne the brunt of this pandemic,” Bibbins-Domingo said.
Health experts say it shows the profound impact of COVID-19, not just on deaths directly due to infection but also from heart disease, cancer and other conditions.
Life expectancy is how long a baby born today can expect to live, on average. In the first half of last year, that was 77.8 years for Americans overall, down one year from 78.8 in 2019. For males it was 75.1 years and for females, 80.5 years.
Dr. Otis Brawley, a cancer specialist and public health professor at Johns Hopkins University, said, overall, the drop in life expectancy is more evidence of “our mishandling of the pandemic. “We have been devastated by the coronavirus more so than any other country. We are 4% of the world’s population, more than 20% of the world’s coronavirus deaths.”