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Peter R. Orszag

Covid-19 Isn’t the Only Thing Shortening American Lives

New estimates of life expectancy expose worrisome health trends in the U.S.

How long will he live?

How long will he live?

Photographer: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

As the U.S. reaches the half-million mark on deaths from Covid-19, it may seem unsurprising that life expectancy, in the first half of 2020, dropped by one year. But shrinking American longevity is startling for reasons that extend beyond the pandemic.

As I wrote in December, “it seems quite likely that 2020 will be another year in which average U.S. life expectancy declines — perhaps by a significant amount.” That is unfortunately proving true, as shown by provisional life expectancy estimates based on mortality patterns from January to June 2020. The estimates, published by the National Center for Health Statistics, show a decline in life expectancy at birth of 1.2 years for males and 0.9 years for females, compared with 2019. Life expectancy for Black men fell by 3 years and for black women by 2.3 years.