Black Life Expectancy in the US Just Dropped the Most Since WWII

“I knew it was going to be large, but when I saw those numbers, I was like, ‘Oh my God,’” a lead researcher said.
July 21, 2021, 5:32pm
Kennedy Rutland gets vital information from a COVID-19 patient at Roseland Community Hospital on December 17, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)​
Kennedy Rutland gets vital information from a COVID-19 patient at Roseland Community Hospital on December 17, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Life expectancy in the U.S. saw its biggest one-year plummet since World War II, according to statistics released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday. The numbers further illustrate the steep cost of the COVID-19 pandemic to Black Americans: The average Black baby born in 2020 is expected to live for three fewer years than a Black baby born just one year earlier.

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The average life expectancy of a child born in the U.S. is now 77.3, down from 78.8 just a year earlier. But it’s even worse for Black people—from 2019 to 2020, average Black life expectancy dropped from nearly 75 years to less than 72. Life expectancy for Latinos also saw a drop of three full years, from 81.8 to 78.8.

Life expectancy is used as a measure of the health of a community; rather than serving as an  actual prediction of how long someone born in 2020 will live, life expectancy shows “what would happen to a hypothetical cohort if it experienced throughout its entire life the mortality conditions of a particular period,” according to the report.

This year’s numbers showed that the gap between Black and white life expectancy is the largest it’s been in more than two decades, the New York Times reported earlier this year.

“I knew it was going to be large, but when I saw those numbers, I was like, ‘Oh my God,’” Dr. Elizabeth Arias, a lead researcher on the report, told the Times.

Overall, the average life expectancy was the lowest it’s been since 2003, and the drop is the single biggest decrease since 1943—when the U.S. was in the middle of World War II and coming out of the Great Depression—and life expectancy dropped by nearly three full years, Arias told the Times. 

The CDC said in its report that COVID-19 was the driver of nearly three-quarters of the “negative contribution” to life expectancy, but various other factors, including “unintentional injuries,” homicide, diabetes, and liver disease, contributed as well. 

More than 600,000 people in the U.S. have died due to complications from COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020. Black and Latino people are nearly three times as likely to be hospitalized as a result of COVID-19 and twice as likely to die from it, according to the CDC

The CDC also found that the life-expectancy drop from 2019 to 2020 would have been even larger if not for the “offsetting effects of decreases in mortality” of other factors, including cancer, heart disease, and suicide.