The life expectancy of Black men in the U.S. fell by three years in the first six months of 2020, according to recent federal figures that highlight the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic in its early months.
Overall, life expectancy dropped by one year to 77.8 as at the end of June 2020, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health.
This, the Wall Street Journal said, was the biggest drop since World War II, when life expectancy fell 2.9 years between 1942 and 1943, and the lowest level it has ever been since 2006, when the CDC started tracking racial disparities in life expectancy.
“To see these rapid declines in a year: seismic. Catastrophic,” wrote Brittney Cooper, a Rutgers University associate professor in the Department of Africana Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies, in a tweet. “Black men lost 3 full years of life expectancy in the first 6 mos of 2020. And Black women lost 2.4 years or so … the picture is just terrible.”
Black men were the hardest hit by the virus, even worse than during World War II. The only other time that U.S. life expectancy has dropped than three years was during the 1918 influenza pandemic, when it dropped by 11 years.
“It’s very concerning when we see mortality increase to such a degree,” said Elizabeth Arias, a health scientist at the CDC and a co-author of the report. “It gives you a clear picture of the magnitude of the effect of the Covid pandemic.”
Data showed that life expectancy for Black women dropped by 2.4 years, with the overall life expectancy for Black Americans decreasing 2.7 years to 72 years, the most of any racial group in the U.S.
Black Americans have died at about three times the rate of white people from the coronavirus, according to data from CDC. This has been attributed to a “toxic mix of inadequate health care, unequal vaccine distribution and hesitancy to get the shots,” said Peter Hotez, co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children’s Hospital.
White Americans’ life expectancy is now six years longer than that of Black Americans, the widest gap in that metric since 1998, according to CDC figures.
Hispanic people, who normally live longer than both Black and white Americans, with a life expectancy that is 1.9 years longer than whites, were also not spared in the covid-19 related life expectancy cuts. Their life expectancy declined 1.9 years to 79.9 years.
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Black and Hispanic men experienced notably larger declines in life expectancy than their female counterparts.
Demographers expect that the drop in U.S. life expectancy will be more dramatic for the second and third virus surges, which infected and killed far more Americans than the first.
Twitter user Mosongo Moukwa urged Black people to get vaccinated. “I know there is an issue of access to vaccines, but I am scared seeing those numbers. We need to encourage people in our community to get vaccinated. It is almost a question of survival. We stood in lines for hours to vote. Surely we can also do this.”