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US life expectancy drops significantly, fueled by COVID-19

Life expectancy in the United States fell for the second straight year, fueled by COVID-19, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published Wednesday. 

The two-year decline was steep, down 2.7 years between 2019 and 2021. Life expectancy was 76.1 years in 2021, down from 77 years in 2020 and 78.8 years in 2019.  

That is the largest drop in decades: It is the first two-year decline in life expectancy since 1961-1963, the CDC said.  

Life expectancy in the U.S. is now back to the level it was in 1996.  

By far the largest factor driving the decline, making up about half of the change, was COVID-19. Other factors included overdose deaths and heart disease.    

“Overall, we have reversed 26 years of health progress in US, with average life expectancy now falling to levels not seen since 1996,” tweeted Tom Bollyky, director of the global health program at the Council on Foreign Relations.  

There were also sharp racial disparities in the declines.  

“During the 2-year period, large disparities were seen in loss of life expectancy by Hispanic origin and race,” the report states.  

For American Indian and Alaska Native people, in particular, the decline over two years was a massive 6.6 years. The decline was about four years for Hispanic people and Black people, compared to 2.4 years for white people.  

COVID-19 has killed more than 1 million people in the U.S. since the pandemic began in early 2020. While the situation has greatly improved since then, with vaccines offering important protection against severe disease and death, about 475 people are still dying from the virus every day, according to a New York Times tracker.  


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