In a shocking new report, the Centers for Disease Control just announced the largest single-year drop in life expectancy in the United States since World War Two. Life expectancy for people in the United States dropped by an astonishing one-and-a-half years from 2019 to 2020.
Life expectancy for Black and Latino people dropped by a whopping three years, double the average decline. The projected lifetime for Black people is now less than 72 years, the lowest it has been in over 20 years. This constitutes the largest drop in the life expectancy for Black people in the United States since the Great Depression. Life expectancy for white people is now less than 78 years, which is also an almost two decade low. Lifetime projections for Latino people in the United States now sit at just under 79 years, making this the largest drop ever recorded for this community.
More than 3.3 million people in the United States died last year, the most ever in U.S. history. About 11% of those deaths were attributed to COVID-19. However, the Coronavirus wasn’t the only factor in the astronomical decline, with record drug overdoses also factoring into the fall.
Inequality in access to healthcare as well as livable and affordable housing put many working class people in general at an increased risk of getting sick, and contributed to the discrepancies in life expectancy for Black and Latino people as compared to the population as a whole. Access to jobs, especially those that pay a living wage, is another major factor in this catastrophic decline — many Black and Latino workers were and are employed in “essential” industries. When combined with the fact that many of those jobs are lower-paying, this resulted in members of those communities not having a choice but to continue working throughout the worst of the pandemic.
Every one of the factors, from the deaths caused by COVID-19 directly to the lack of adequate housing and healthcare to drug overdose deaths, can be attributed to governmental failures to take appropriate action and properly address the pandemic. Had the government not mishandled the situation from the start, had they effectively distributed personal protective equipment for frontline workers, had they met the needs of the people so they could quarantine safely and not have to work in order to feed their families or pay their rent, an untold number of lives could have been saved. They could have provided universal healthcare and rapidly built up medical infrastructure so that those who did get sick with COVID-19 could be sufficiently cared for. Their failure to do so prolonged the pandemic, leading people struggling with drug addiction to use substances in isolation where fatal overdoses are much more likely.
Instead, they fumbled their response at every turn, doing less than the bare minimum in the form of measly “survival” checks that were barely enough to cover the average monthly rent, and eviction moratoriums that could see vast numbers of people face homelessness shortly after they expire. As they always do, these so-called “representatives” in government put their own greed, and the greed of other capitalist elites, ahead of the needs and lives of working class people. The responsibility for the drop in life expectancy caused by the massive numbers of deaths that occurred in 2020 rests squarely in their hands, and in order to move beyond the disregard for life inherent in the current system, the power to make these changes and decisions needs to rest with the people.