U.S. Life Expectancy Drops Amid COVID, Unemployment

The average life expectancy for all Americans fell by a year, but it fell by three years among Black Americans.

Video Transcript

AMBER STRONG: Life expectancy in the US decreased in 2020, according to the CDC. But that comes as no surprise to experts who've long predicted that Covid-19 impact physically, financially, mentally, would lead to something like this.

According to the preliminary data the number of years one can expect to live dropped by one year from 78.8 years to 77.8 years.

ROBERT ANDERSON: While that doesn't sound like a whole lot at a population level this is-- this is a huge decline.

AMBER STRONG: In 2006, life expectancy across the board began to tick upward, but the number has never been equal between blacks and whites. In 2020, the gap widened with a life expectancy for black men decreasing by three years.

DR STELLA SAFO: You've seen it in the way the testing is rolled out. You've seen it in the way the vaccine access is rolled out, and now we're seeing it in the ultimate numbers, which is what it's doing to life expectancy for our population.

AMBER STRONG: Dr. Stella Safo, a physician specializing in epidemiology and HIV, says the disparity issue is centuries in the making.

DR STELLA SAFO: It's all about social determinants of health, which is just a fancy way to say how we live. And how we've lived in this country is one that has been founded on different groups being treated very differently.

AMBER STRONG: A new study from the University of California San Francisco suggests up to 30,000 of the excess deaths were not directly linked to the Covid-19 virus but caused by unemployment.

ELLICOT MATTHAY: We see disproportionate impacts across a range of health outcomes because they're all artifacts of the same longstanding unjust social structures, things like income inequality and structural racism and the unequal and unfair distribution of power and resources and opportunities.

AMBER STRONG: While the numbers and reasons are still becoming clear the societal toll of those excess deaths is almost immeasurable. Like Ernest and Ann Wilkins who recently passed away from Covid-19 only a day apart.

Now those numbers from the CDC were only from January to June of last year. That was very early on in the pandemic. Some experts believe those numbers will rebound as the virus is contained and people continue to be vaccinated. Amber Strong, Newsy, northern Virginia.