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The death toll from COVID-19 has caused U.S. life expectancy to drop by 2020

Life expectancy in the United States fell in the first half of 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic occurred.

A preliminary estimate of U.S. global life expectancy since birth finds that it has dropped a full year compared to 2019, from 78.8 to 77.8 years, the National Center for Health Statistics reports online Feb. 18. It is the largest decline in U.S. life expectancy since the early 1940s.

When broken down by race and ethnicity, strong differences arise in the pandemic in the United States. Black life expectancy fell by 2.7 years, from 74.7 in 2019 to 72 in 2020. For Hispanics, the fall was 1.9 years, from 81.8 to 79.9. Whites experienced the smallest decline, from 78.8 to 78. As a result, the gap in life expectancy among white and black populations in the United States grew to six years, 46% more than in 2019 and the largest gap since 1998.

“These racial and ethnic disparities reflect persistent structural inequalities that increase both the risk of COVID virus exposure and the risk of dying from COVID among those infected,” says Noreen Goldman, a demographer at Princeton University. Many black and Latino Americans have worked in front-line jobs that cannot be done at home and are less likely than white Americans to have access to health care (SN: 02/02/20).

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Preliminary estimates in the new report include deaths only through June. With the rise in COVID-19 casualties by the end of the year, “I think – and I fear – that the final estimate for the decline in life expectancy in 2020 will be very negligible,” Goldman says. She and a colleague projected a global drop in U.S. life expectancy in 2020 of 1.13 years, in a study published online Feb. 2 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, but expects that to be underestimated as well.

As of Feb. 17, about 490,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University tracker.

The new estimate also does not take into account drug overdose deaths, which increased in 2020 according to provisional counts. Drug overdose deaths contributed to the decline in life expectancy on the scale of 0.1 and 0.2 years after 2014 (SN: 21/12/17).

Goldman expects the COVID-19 pandemic to continue to affect life expectancy until 2021. The disease "is likely to have negative long-term health impacts," he says, and the social and economic effects of the pandemic will almost certainly have a detrimental impact. on health and survival for years to come ".

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