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The Life Expectancy in America Is Plummeting

Life expectancy in the U.S. has fallen off a cliff for the second year in a row, marking the sharpest decline in life expectancy in the U.S. in a century. In 2019, the average American could expect to live to 79. By 2021, that number had fallen to 76. 

The drop was particularly sharp among Native Americans and Alaska Natives, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

The Covid pandemic can account for a lot, but not all, of the decline. Researchers say about half of the precipitous drop comes from the Covid death toll, while most of the rest can be blamed on a rise in accidental deaths — a category that includes drug overdoses. Experts say America is also suffering from a jump in heart disease and chronic liver disease. 

The U.S. is unique in the sharpness and duration of the drop. While most countries saw a death toll rise during Covid, Dr. Steven Woolf, director emeritus of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University, told the New York Times that “none of them experienced a continuing fall in life expectancy like the U.S. did, and a good number of them saw life expectancy start inching back to normal.” 

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That can probably be attributed to the success other countries have had in implementing vaccine programs, achieving the sort of high vaccination rates that have frustrated U.S. efforts. But health experts also say America’s longstanding issues with affordability and accessibility of healthcare, which often overlaps with systemic poverty and discrimination issues, has also contributed to the rise. In other words, Covid not only caused a lot of this drop, but also exposed and exasperated a lot of other dark issues America has spent a long time trying not to address.

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