Another Shocking Decline in Life Expectancy

Another Shocking Decline in Life Expectancy

Allison Bailey/NurPhoto
By Yuval Rosenberg and Michael Rainey
Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Good Wednesday evening. Can you believe it’s already September?

US Life Expectancy Suffers a Historic Drop

Life expectancy in the U.S. has fallen by nearly three years since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to new provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control.

In 2019, before the pandemic began, life expectancy at birth was 78 years and 10 months. In 2020, it fell to 77 years, due largely to deaths from Covid-19. In 2021, life expectancy fell for a second consecutive year, to 76 years and 1 month — about the same level it was a quarter century earlier.

Only half of the loss in life expectancy in 2021 can be attributed to Covid, even though the death rate from the virus was higher in 2021 than in 2020. Other contributing factors include drug overdoses, heart disease and suicide — all of which had been weighing on life expectancy before the pandemic began. Drug overdoses hit a record high in 2021, killing about 109,000 people.

“It’s a dismal situation,” University of Pennsylvania demographer Sam Preston told the Associated Press. “It was bad before and it’s gotten worse.”

Unusually large decline: Life expectancy rose in the U.S. during much of the 20th century, although the annual increase was typically small, measured in fractions of a year. The decrease recorded in 2020 and 2021, by contrast, was extremely unusual, and the largest change in life expectancy in nearly 100 years.

The decline could have been even worse, too. Death rates from influenza and pneumonia decreased during the pandemic, and if they had been more typical of the pre-pandemic era, the drop in life expectancy would have been even larger.

Some groups worse off than others: Americans have fared worse than citizens in most other high-income countries, the great majority of which saw a rebound in life expectancy in 2021 following a Covid-driven decline in 2020.

“None of them experienced a continuing fall in life expectancy like the U.S. did, and a good number of them saw life expectancy start inching back to normal,” Dr. Steven Woolf, director emeritus of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University, told The New York Times. Those countries vaccinated a higher percentage of their populations and took additional steps, such as widespread mask-wearing, that reduced death rates. “The U.S. is clearly an outlier,” Woolf said.

Within the U.S., some groups saw larger declines than others. Native Americans and Alaskan Natives were hit particularly hard, with average life expectancy dropping by four years just in 2020, and 6.6 years overall. Life expectancy now stands at 65 for that group, about the level recorded for all Americans in 1944 during World War II. Covid complicated long-standing health issues among native populations, including diabetes and a lack of access to health care.

Black Americans were also strongly affected, seeing a four-year drop in life expectancy from 2019 to 2021, to 70.8 years. White Americans saw a smaller decline of 2.4 years during the same period, resulting in a life expectancy of 76.4 years in 2021.


Poll of the Day: The Split on Biden’s Student Debt Plan

President Joe Biden’s plan to cancel billions of dollars in student debt has divided Americans, but the controversial idea has more support than opposition among registered voters, according to a new Politico/Morning Consult poll.

The poll finds that 48% of voters support the cancellation of between $10,000 and $20,000 of student loan debt for individuals making less than $125,000 and couples making less than $250,000. A slightly smaller share of voters, 43%, opposes the idea. More than seven in 10 Democrats back the plan, while 67% of Republicans are against it. By a margin of 47-42, independents lean against the plan.

The poll also finds that more than half of voters, 56%, back Biden’s extension of a pause on student loan payments until the end of the year. And more than three-quarters of voters, including 86% of Democrats and 68% of Republicans, support the idea of developing a plan to address the high cost of college.


Number of the Day: $12,707,720.92

The state of Texas has spent nearly $13 million to bus migrants to New York City and Washington, D.C., according to data from the Texas Division of Emergency Management reported by CNN, which obtained the figures through a Freedom of Information Act filing.

CNN’s Polo Sandoval and Andy Rose report that released migrants are usually responsible for the cost of their own travel through the United States, but under GOP Gov. Greg Abbott, Texas has been paying to relocate thousands of migrants to those northern cities. The program is a political move meant to highlight the Biden administration’s immigration policies and what Republicans call a border crisis. "Before we began busing migrants up to New York, it was just Texas and Arizona that bore the brunt of all the chaos and all the problems that come with it," Abbott told ABC News earlier this month. "Now, the rest of America is understanding exactly what is going on."

As of August 9, Texas had paid more than $12.7 million to Wynne Transportation, the charter service bussing the migrants. The El Paso Times notes that the spending total amounts to about $1,300 per person, whereas one-way, same-day tickets from El Paso to New York or Washington D.C. cost around $300 and same-day flights run less than $400.

“Texas has solicited private donations to help pay for the cost of the bus trips, but the state had only received $167,828 as of August 17,” CNN says. “At a news conference in April announcing the program, Abbott acknowledged taxpayers were likely to end up with part of the bill.”

CNN reports that Arizona has spent about $3.5 million bussing migrants, according to Republican Gov. Doug Ducey’s office.

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