WASHINGTON — The life expectancy for Americans dropped for the second year in a row, according to new data released by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) on Wednesday.
The report shows the pandemic has fueled the decline in life expectancy, accounting for half of the decline from 2020 to 2021.
Americans lost a little less than a full year last year, with life expectancy dropping from 77 years in 2020 to 76.1 years in 2021.
The U.S. life expectancy rate is now at the lowest level since 1996, according to the report.
“I think it is disgraceful,” said Noreen Goldman, a professor of demography and public affairs at the School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.
Goldman studies health and survival, and much of her work during the pandemic has been focused on racial and ethnic disparities and how COVID-19 has impacted survival.
Goldman weighed in on why we may be seeing life expectancy drop.
“We have high vaccine refusal,” said Goldman. “Low uptake of booster shots. We have a population of high rates of chronic disease. We had no nationally coordinated effort of dealing with the pandemic. Different localities and states kind of went their own way.”
In addition to the pandemic, the report points to other long-standing factors for the life expectancy decline as well, including drug overdoses, suicides, and heart disease.
“It’s pretty sobering,” said Rachel Robinson, a professor in the School of International Service at American University. “We’re the wealthiest country on earth, and yet we have lower life expectancy of similarly advantaged countries.”
Robinson is a sociologist and demographer by training and said that our public policies and programs play a key role.
“We need to strive for a society where people have equal chances in life,” said Robinson. “If we can invest in improving both the social inequities and the health-specific inequities that exist, it benefits everybody.”
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