Here's How The Pandemic Affected Life Expectancy In The U.S.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching effects across the globe. In the United States, over 490,000 people have died from the virus, with many more having been infected (via CNN). For the first time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is using provisional data to estimate how the pandemic will affect life expectancy in the U.S.

In the beginning of 2020, U.S. life expectancy fell by one year to 77.8 years on average. The decrease was caused not only by deaths from the COVID-19 virus itself, but by other factors that were a result of the pandemic. There has been long-standing evidence for healthcare discrepancies in the U.S. based on race, and the differences in life expectancy for certain groups reflects these differences. In the non-Hispanic Black population, life expectancy decreased by 2.7 years from 74.7 to 72.0. For the Hispanic population, it decreased by 1.9 years from 81.8 to 79.9. And for the non-Hispanic white population, life expectancy only decreased by 0.8 years from 78.8 to 78.0.

Racial and ethnic disparities grow

Life expectancy for the Black population has always been lower than the white population in the U.S. because of exposure to a variety of economic, historical, social, and biological risk factors during critical points in people's lives (via theĀ American Journal of Public Health). However, the current gap in life expectancy at 6.0 years is the largest since 1998. The gap between the Hispanic and white population narrowed in 2020 from 3.0 years to 1.9 years. These numbers highlight how increasing disparities between racial and ethnic populations have been made worse because of COVID-19.

The CDC warns that this data is based on provisional death counts in the first half of 2020, and don't fully reflect the impact of the pandemic to this point. They are also careful to point out that deaths may be underreported due to factors such as delays in processing death certificates and differences in the timelines of data by race or ethnicity. There is also concern that the numbers will increase because of delays in reporting due to the need to further investigate deaths that were not directly caused by the virus, such as drug overdoses and infant deaths.