Life expectancy in US drops again, marking worst 2-year decline in a century
U.S. life expectancy estimates have fallen to the worst levels since 1996, according to a new federal report, marking the second straight year of plummeting estimates in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Health officials say the drop in life expectancy from 2019 to 2021 falling by 2.7 years to 76.1 is now the country's worst two-year decline on record since 1923, according to provisional estimates published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics.
"The declines in life expectancy since 2019 are largely driven by the pandemic," the agency said in a news release. "COVID-19 deaths contributed to nearly three-fourths, or 74%, of the decline from 2019 to 2020, and 50% of the decline from 2020 to 2021."
More than one million Americans have COVID-19 listed as a cause on their death certificates to date, according to the latest data tabulated by the agency.
"Unintentional injuries" was the second biggest overall reason for the worsening estimate, driving 15.9% of the decline. Those "were largely driven by drug overdose," the report's authors wrote.
However, the impact of these causes varied widely among demographic groups.
COVID-19 was the leading cause in the decline in life expectancy among White Americans in 2021, contributing to 54.1% of the decline last year, from 77.4 to 76.4 years.
COVID-19 was responsible for 35% of the life expectancy decline in Black Americans, and 21.4% of the decline in American Indian and Alaska Native people.
During the first year of the pandemic, the agency had reported that Hispanic Americans saw the worst drop in life expectancy of any group, with 90% of their decline blamed on COVID-19.
During the second year of the pandemic, the Hispanic population saw only a "slight decline" of 0.2 years in their life expectancy. "Unintentional injuries" outpaced COVID-19 as driving the drop in life expectancy among Hispanic Americans.
COVID-19 was not the leading cause for a decline in life expectancy among Asian Americans. Instead, cancer drove 21.4% of their decline last year.