Life expectancy in the U.S. dropped by an entire year in the first half of 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic started ravaging the northeastern part of the country and spreading south, according to preliminary data released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). "This is a huge decline," Robert Anderson, who oversees the numbers for the CDC, told The Associated Press. "You have to go back to World War II, the 1940s, to find a decline like this."
The decline in life expectancy means that a baby born in the first half of 2020 can expect to live 77.8 years, down from 78.8 years in 2019. Life expectancy for Black Americans dropped a stunning 2.7 years, to 72 years old, reversing a 27-year gradual closure of the gap between white and Black life expectancy. White Americans saw their life expectancy drop 0.8 years, to 78, and Hispanics experienced a 1.9-year decline, to 79.9 years old.
"What is really quite striking in these numbers is that they only reflect the first half of the year," Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo at the University of California, San Francisco, told AP. "I would expect that these numbers would only get worse." They will get worse for everyone, but because the deaths in the first half of the year were concentrated in areas with large Black and Latino populations, there will probably be a greater share of white deaths in the full-year numbers, the NCHS's Elizabeth Arias, lead author of the paper, told The Washington Post.
COVID-19 wasn't the only reason for the decrease in life expectancy. With more than 3 million recorded deaths. 2020 was the deadliest year in U.S. history. Included in those statistics are an uptick in fatal strokes and heart attacks and a record number of drug overdose deaths, 81,000 from May 2019 to May 2020. Life expectancy, with few modest exceptions, had risen steadily in the U.S. since the mid-20th century.