Covid Pandemic Causes the Biggest Drop in U.S. Life Expectancy

Black and Brown Americans suffer the most in biggest U.S. drop in life expectancy since WWII, Modern Healthcare, June 2021

In an earlier post listing a series of articles I thought might be interesting to AB, this one Modern Healthcare article was listed as one of interest. I decided to expand on the article and allow it more space and subsequent detail. The advent of Covid, lack of medical access, and subsequent resistance to vaccinations has played out in a regression in life expectancy. The regression hit the hardest in minorities. That is not to say, the white majority did not experience a regression either . . . a lesser regression. The author points to economic disparity accentuating “the decades of difference existing in the country between the wealth and health of Black and Brown Americans when compared to white Americans.” The stage was set.


The Coronavirus pandemic has killed an approximate 600,000 in the US. It has also sickened another 3.4 million with longer range persistent symptoms not easily healed over time. The Covid pandemic was devastating for vulnerable people resulting in the loss of jobs, homes and future opportunities. Millions of people are finding themselves living a sicker life and possibly dying younger. Caused by poverty, hunger and housing insecurity mostly brought about by Covid -19. And it still is not over.

The pandemic will also accentuate the decades of difference existing in the country between the wealth and health of Black and Brown Americans when compared to white Americans. New research published in the BMJ details how wide the gap has grown. Life expectancy across the US decreased by ~2 years from 2018 to 2020. It is the largest decline since 1943 when American troops were dying in World War II.

While white Americans life span regressed 1.36 years, Black Americans life span lost 3.25 years, and Hispanic Americans worse regressing 3.88 years. Life expectancy typically can vary by a month or two from year to year. Losses of three years are classified as being “pretty catastrophic,” according to Commonwealth University professor Dr. Steven Woolf, the lead author of the study.

The two years studied revealed;

  • the average loss of life expectancy in the U.S. being almost nine times greater than the average in 16 other developed nations. Residents of those countries are expected to live 4.7 years longer than Americans.
  • The disparity in longevity between the US and other countries reveals Americans died not only in greater numbers but at younger ages during the two year period.
  • U.S. mortality rate spiked by nearly 23% in 2020, when there were roughly 522,000 more deaths than expected. Not all of these deaths were attributable directly to covid-19. Fatal heart attacks and strokes both increased in 2020, at least partly fueled by delayed treatment or lack of access to medical care,
  • More than 40% of Americans put off treatment during the early months of the pandemic. Hospital capacity was limited. Going into a medical facility seemed risky. Without prompt medical attention, heart attacks can cause congestive heart failure; delaying treatment of strokes raises the risk of long-term disability.

The devastating public health impact during the pandemic is due to economic disparity. While stock prices have recovered from last year’s decline and hitting all-time highs, many people are still suffering financially. Black and Brown Americans more so. In a February report, economic analysts at McKinsey & Co. predicted that, on average, Black and Brown workers won’t recover their pre-pandemic employment and salaries until 2024.

The lowest-paid workers and those with less than a high school education may not recover even by then.

And while federal and state relief programs have cushioned the impact of pandemic job losses,

  • 11.3% of Americans today live in poverty — compared with 10.7% in January 2020.
  • A federal eviction moratorium has helped an estimated 2.2 million people remain in their homes and will expire June 30. Without the protection from evictions, “millions of Americans could fall off the cliff.” Vangela Wade. president and CEO of the Mississippi Center for Justice, a not-for-profit advocacy group.

The U.S. disadvantage in mortality compared with other high income democracies in 2020 is neither new nor sudden,” Barbieri wrote. It appears the pandemic has magnified existing vulnerabilities in U.S. society, she added.

“The range of factors that play into this include income inequality, the social safety net, as well as racial inequality and access to health care,” Duke’s Curtis said.