Life expectancy in the United States has dropped by a full year, according to new figures released on Thursday.
The current life expectancy of an individual in the U.S. is now 77.8 years, down from 78.8 years in 2019.
While there have been drops in life expectancy in recent years due to increases in drug overdoses, the decline over the past year, in large part due to the coronavirus pandemic, is the biggest drop in life expectancy since World War II.
The drop in life expectancy was even more noticeable among communities which have been hit harder by the pandemic. Black Americans, for example, saw a drop of 2.7 years, while Latinx Americans saw a decrease of 1.9 years. The gap between life expectancies seen in white and Black Americans is now the widest it’s been in more than two decades, with white Americans born today expected to live six years longer than Black Americans on average.
The actual drop in overall life expectancy may be more pronounced, as the figures are based on the first six months of last year, and the majority of deaths from the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 occurred in the second half of that year.
There is some hope that the situation can turn around as the rate of new COVID-19 cases continues to decrease. In the past two weeks, for example, the number of new cases have dropped by 43 percent. The daily death toll has dropped by 34 percent.
The seven-day average of new daily deaths is 2,026 deaths being reported per day — the lowest since New Year’s Eve.
Much of the COVID-19 related deaths that occurred in 2020 could have been prevented, according to a new report published in The Lancet. Within the research cited in that report, which states that the U.S. could have avoided 40 percent of COVID-19 deaths, two factors largely stand out: the country’s for-profit healthcare system and the actions of former President Donald Trump during the pandemic.
U.S. life expectancy began falling behind that of other wealthy nations in the 1980s, The Lancet report noted, when the Reagan administration enacted regressive policies in health care.
“That is the turning point where health started falling in the United States compared to the other G7 nations,” Kevin Grumbach, a professor of family and community medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and co-author of The Lancet report, said in an interview. “We totally shifted to conservative and neoliberal policies, and that corresponds with the deteriorating health in the country relative to other nations.”
Over the past 40 years, life expectancy in the U.S. has fallen behind other wealthy nations by an average of 3.4 years.
The Trump administration also bears major responsibility for the high number of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S., the report stated, as it continued to peddle detrimental approaches to public health issues. Trump’s inconsistent messaging and amplification of misinformation led many, particularly those in his devoted fanbase, to take the virus less seriously than they should have.
Trump’s refusal to lead by example and wear a mask in most public appearances, as well as his promotion of lies about COVID-19 (including not leveling with the American people about its true deadliness), likely contributed to higher rates of deaths. The lack of mask-wearing and social distancing practices within the former president’s own campaign rallies probably led to hundreds of coronavirus-related deaths.
As of Thursday morning, 490,326 Americans have died from coronavirus, with nearly 28 million diagnosed with the virus so far. While health models predict many more deaths, at least 115,000 casualties from the pandemic can be avoided between now and June 1 if everyone in the country wore masks in public.
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