How The COVID-19 Pandemic Has Affected Life Expectancy In The US

Over the past year and a half, the COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged the globe, taking with it the lives of more than 600,000 Americans (per CDC). As of March 2021, a poll discovered that roughly 1 in 5 Americans had lost a loved one to the virus, with this number being even greater among minority groups. Approximately 15% of white respondents reported losing a close friend or relative to COVID-19, compared to 30% of Black respondents and 29% of Hispanic respondents (per AP News).

According to Pew Research Center, COVID-19 resulted in "roughly 5.5 million years of lost life in the United States," exceeding that of all accidents combined and more than triple that of diabetes and liver disease in a typical year. In fact, COVID-19 was surpassed in years of life lost only by cancer and heart disease. With all of this in mind, it is no surprise that the COVID-19 pandemic has influenced the life expectancy of Americans.

COVID-19 has caused a decline in life expectancy, especially among minority groups

A recent study published in The BMJ found that in 2020, life expectancy decreased by 1.87 years in the United States, leaving the United States at a disadvantage of 4.69 fewer years of life expectancy compared to other high-income countries. According to Steven Woolf of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, such a steep decline in American life expectancy has not been seen since World War II (per NPR).

This reduction in life expectancy was particularly pronounced among minority groups that were hit hard by the virus, with Hispanic and Black people losing 3.88 and 3.25 years of life expectancy, respectively. Unfortunately, this is consistent with CDC data that Black and Hispanic people, as well as Native Americans, all have at least twice the death rate of COVID-19 compared to white people. Life expectancy for Black men dropped from 71.5 in 2018 to 67.7 in 2020, its lowest point in more than two decades. According to BMJ, this has eliminated any progress that had been made throughout the past decade to reduce disparities in life expectancy.

Similarly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledged that "health equity is still not a reality as COVID-19 has unequally affected many racial and ethnic minority groups." Factors that have played a role in the increased death rate among minority groups include barriers to obtaining health insurance or healthcare, working in high-risk settings, crowded housing, discrimination in health care, as well as "educational, income, and wealth gaps," per the CDC.