As the Associated Press reports, life expectancy among Americans dropped one year overall during the first half of 2020 as the country was ravaged by COVID-19. Black Americans in particular were hit hardest, losing three years of life expectancy, while Hispanics lost almost two years. “This is a huge decline,” said Robert Anderson of the CDC. “You have to go back to World War II, the 1940s, to find a decline like this.”
U.S. life expectancy went from 78.8 years in 2019 to 77.8 years currently. The life expectancy gap between Black and white Americans had been narrowing for years, but now it’s back the widest gap since 1998 at six years.
Life expectancy doesn’t often change so drastically over such a short period of time, and COVID-19 isn’t the only contributing factor behind the decline. The New York Times reports that the drop comes after drug overdose deaths have continued to rise.
“I knew it was going to be large but when I saw those numbers, I was like, ‘Oh my God,’” said federal researcher Elizabeth Arias on the racial disparity in life expectancy. “We haven’t seen a decline of that magnitude in decades.” Health equity researcher and University of California dean Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo has warned that these numbers could get worse, especially since only the first half of 2020 led to this decline.
“Black and Hispanic communities throughout the United States have borne the brunt of this pandemic,” explained Bibbins-Domingo. She said that minorities are more likely to be working in low-wage jobs on the frontline, places where the virus is more likely to spread. Dr. Otis Brawley, a cancer specialist and public health professor at John Hopkins University, said the low usage of masks, early reliance on “worhtless” drugs such as hydroxychloroquine were a contributing factor to the high level of deaths due to COVID-19.
As of February, over a year after the first case of COVID was detected in the U.S., there have been over 490,000 deaths in the country.