U.S. Life Expectancy Has Plummeted, Especially for Black and Latinx People

By Shani Saxon Jul 26, 2021

New federal data shows that the coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately impacted the life span of Black and Latinx Americans. According to The New York Times, communities of color suffered “a far steeper drop in life expectancy in 2020 than White Americans.” 

The July report, released by the National Center for Health Statistics, shows that the overall life expectancy for Americans fell by a year and a half, which is mostly attributed to the global pandemic. Latinx people saw a decline of three years in 2020, while life expectancy for Black Americans fell 2.9 years. White people showed the smallest decline with 1.2 years. 

Dr. Mary T. Bassett, a former New York City health commissioner and professor of health and human rights at Harvard University, spoke to The Times about the findings, which she described as “devastating but unsurprising.”

COVID-19 “uncovered the deep racial and ethnic inequities in access to health, and I don’t think that we’ve ever overcome them,” she said. “To think that we’ll just bounce back from them seems a bit wishful thinking.”

Reports The Times:

Racial and ethnic disparities have persisted throughout the pandemic, a reflection of many factors, including the differences in overall health and available health care between white, Hispanic and Black people in the United States. Black and Hispanic Americans were more likely to be employed in risky, public-facing jobs during the pandemic — bus drivers, restaurant cooks, sanitation workers — rather than working on laptops from the relative safety of their homes.
rnThey also more commonly depend on public transportation, risking coronavirus exposure, or live in multigenerational homes and in tighter conditions that are more conducive to spreading the virus. 

Dr. Elizabeth Arias, one of the report’s researchers, told The Times that it will be a while before life expectancy numbers return to what they were pre-pandemic. Bouncing back would require having “no more excess death because of Covid, and that’s already not possible in 2021,” Dr. Arias said.

“If it was just the pandemic and we were able to take control of that and reduce the numbers of excess deaths, they may be able to gain some of the loss,” she added. However, as The Times reports, more deaths may come as a result of people missing regular doctor appointments in 2020 for other ailments.

According to Dr. Arias, “We may be seeing the indirect effects of the pandemic for some time to come.”