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CDC: Life expectancy drop in 2020 largest since WWII

U.S. life expectancy fell by a year and a half in 2020, the largest one-year decline since World War II, public health officials said Wednesday (Source: “US life expectancy in 2020 saw biggest drop since WWII,” Associated Press, July 21).

The decrease for both Black Americans and Hispanic Americans was even worse: three years.

The drop, spelled out in a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is due mainly to the COVID-19 pandemic, which health officials said is responsible for close to 74% of the overall life expectancy decline. More than 3.3 million Americans died last year, far more than any other year in U.S. history, with COVID-19 accounting for about 11% of those deaths.

Black life expectancy has not fallen so much in one year since the mid-1930s, during the Great Depression. Health officials have not tracked Hispanic life expectancy for nearly as long, but the 2020 decline was the largest recorded one-year drop.

Causes of death other than COVID-19 also played a role. Drug overdoses pushed life expectancy down, particularly for white Americans; and a rise in homicides was a small but significant reason for the decline for Black Americans, said Elizabeth Arias, the report’s lead author.

Other problems further affected Black and Hispanic people, including lack of access to quality health care, more crowded living conditions and a greater share of the population in lower-paying jobs that required them to keep working when the pandemic was at its worst, experts said.