U.S. life expectancy falls to lowest level since mid-1990s due to COVID and drug overdoses

Dr. Steven Woolf:

People of color in our country were devastated by this pandemic.

Black and Hispanic Americans, Native Americans were at much higher risk and sustained very large losses in life expectancy in 2020, much higher than in the white population. This new data shows that they continued to suffer losses, but it was actually the white population that experienced a larger decrease in life expectancy.

Nonetheless, even with that pattern, death rates were still much higher among people of color. As to the ages affected, we had already been aware for the — for the decade preceding this pandemic that we have a problem in this country of rising death rates in the working-age population. That’s people 25 to 64.

Those groups are not experiencing increasing death rates in other countries. It’s just the United States that’s having this problem. So, when the pandemic struck, I wasn’t entirely surprised that we had a disproportionate increase in death rates in that young and middle-age group.

Of course, the elderly were at higher risk. So, the increase in death rates among the elderly was also, unfortunately, anticipated. What’s worrying about this new report is that it’s also reporting an increase in death rates in children and adolescents. That’s not something we had seen before.

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