The 2020 life expectancy numbers also underscore longer-term health challenges that were already alarming. For two to three decades, life expectancy has been improving much more rapidly for higher earners than for lower earners, and 2020 has probably made these gaps worse. The one bright spot in the differential trends before the pandemic had been a narrowing of racial differences. These new estimates show a dramatic reversal of that hopeful pattern. From the early 1990s to 2016, the racial gap in life expectancy for males at birth shrunk from more than 8 years to about 4.5. During the first half of 2020, it widened to more than 7 years.
On the contrary, 2020 mortality data indicate that death rates from non-Covid causes rose, despite the economic recession. More Americans than expected died from diabetes, high blood pressure and pneumonia. Some of these deaths may have been misreported, and actually caused by Covid. But a large number may also reflect the challenges in providing non-Covid health care during the past year, as people have avoided hospitals, and government mandates have restricted discretionary medical procedures. The pandemic will provide hard lessons on which types of medical care truly improve health, and which ones can be safely skipped or delayed.
Life expectancy in the United States dropped a staggering one year during the first half of 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic caused its first wave of deaths, health officials are reporting.
Minorities suffered the biggest impact, with Black Americans losing nearly three years and Hispanics, nearly two years, according to preliminary estimates Thursday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“This is a huge decline,” said Robert Anderson, who oversees the numbers for the CDC. “You have to go back to World War II, the 1940s, to find a decline like this.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made headlines last week when it announced that Covid-19 had reduced the average life expectancy of Americans in 2020 by a full year. The news seemed to starkly illustrate the devastation wrought by our nation’s worst public health crisis in 100 years.
But there was a problem. The pandemic’s appalling toll could not have reduced life span by nearly that much. My own estimate is that when Covid-19’s ravages in 2020 are averaged across the country’s entire population, we each lost about five days of life.
The CDC’s mistake? It calculated life expectancy using an assumption that is assuredly wrong, which yielded a statistic that was certain to be misunderstood. That’s exactly the type of misstep the agency can’t afford to make. Not now, not after former President Trump’s relentless attacks on its credibility. Not after his advisers were caught altering and editing the agency’s monthly reports to downplay the pandemic.
That’s not to say every single white American has it great — that’s obviously not true. But, on average, Black people tend to face much bigger challenges for living the healthiest life possible. That shows up in the life expectancy gap: White people were expected to live nearly 79 years on average before Covid-19 and almost 78 years after, while Black people were expected to live nearly 75 years before Covid-19 and almost 73 after, according to the PNAS study. The Black life expectancy even before Covid-19 was equivalent to what the white life expectancy was in the 1970s — as though decades of progress in well-being and health care were suddenly erased.
It is better to provide death rates by age ranges for year-to-year comparisons.
When you calculate a period life expectancy, you’re incorporating the mortality rates for all the ages above the current age, and it doesn’t really capture how specific age ranges were affected. I can use these life expectancies to make estimates about the death rates, but I’m not going to – I’m trying to keep the calculations simple so that other people can follow my spreadsheets and check what I’m doing.
With age-adjusted death rates, you can capture overall mortality levels, but again, you don’t know which age ranges were affected the most.
I believe period life expectancy is used for these types of reports because people are more comfortable thinking about number of years to live, or age at death, than they are thinking about rates.
“A year of life expectancy lost doesn’t really give you a true sense of how serious this has been. Millions of life years were actually lost,” Eileen Crimmins, a professor at the University of Southern California who has researched changes in mortality, told CNN. “Covid is on track to cause more deaths than cancer or heart disease, and that’s important.”Most deaths due to Covid-19 have been among older adults, which would have a small effect on overall life expectancy.
But Theresa Andrasfay, a researcher at the University of Southern California who has published work on the potential impact of Covid-19 on life expectancy, notes that while deaths among younger adults may be less common, the numbers are still substantial.
In the first half of 2020, life expectancy at birth for the total U.S. population was 77.8 years, declining by 1.0 year from 78.8 in 2019 (6). Life expectancy at birth for males was 75.1 years in the first half of 2020, representing a decline of 1.2 years from 76.3 years in 2019. For females, life expectancy declined to 80.5 years, decreasing 0.9 year from 81.4 years in 2019 (Figure 1).
Author(s): Elizabeth Arias, Ph.D., Betzaida Tejada-Vera, M.S., and Farida Ahmad, M.P.H.
The decline in life expectancy was seen across racial and ethnic groups but was most severe in minorities, with Black Americans losing 2.7 years (from 74.7 to 72.0) and Hispanic Americans losing 1.9 years (from 81.8 to 79.9) during the same period. Meanwhile, white Americans lost less than a year (from 78.8 to 78.0), according to the report.
Hispanic Americans traditionally have the most longevity compared to other racial and ethnic groups in the U.S., and provisional estimates show they still do. Hispanics saw their “advantage” in this regard compared to Black Americans increase from 7.1 years in 2019 to 7.9. years in the first six months of 2020, the report said.
U.S. life expectancy declined by a year during the first half of 2020, according to federal figures released Thursday that show the deadly impact of the coronavirus pandemic’s early months.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics said life expectancy at birth was 77.8 years as of the end of June based on provisional estimates. The one-year decline from the previous year was the largest drop since World War II, when life expectancy fell 2.9 years between 1942 and 1943. It put life expectancy at its lowest level in the U.S. since 2006.
“It’s very concerning when we see mortality increase to such a degree,” said Elizabeth Arias, a health scientist at the center and a co-author of the report. “It gives you a clear picture of the magnitude of the effect of the Covid pandemic.”
Abstract Workers have the option of claiming Social Security retirement benefits at any age between 62 and 70, with later claiming resulting in higher monthly benefits. These higher monthly benefits reflect an actuarial adjustment designed to keep lifetime benefits equal, for an individual with average life expectancy, regardless of when benefits are claimed. The actuarial adjustments, however, are decades old. Since then, interest rates have declined; life expectancy has increased; and longevity improvements have been much greater for high earners than low earners. This paper explores how changes in longevity and interest rates have affected the fairness of the actuarial adjustment over time and how the disparity in life expectancy affects the equity across the income distribution. It also looks at the impact of these developments on the costs of the program and the progressivity of benefits.
The paper found that: • The increases in life expectancy and the decline in interest rates argue for smaller reductions for early claiming and a smaller delayed retirement credit for later claiming. • Specifically, the benefit at 62 should equal 77.5 percent, as opposed to 70.0 percent, of the full age-67 benefit, and the benefit at 70 should equal 119.9 percent, instead of 124.0 percent, of the full benefit. • The outdated actuarial adjustments are a modest moneymaker for the program – about $1.9 billion in 2018, with most of the gains coming from those claiming at 62, who are typically lower earners. Surprisingly, the correlations between earnings and life expectancy and between earnings and claiming behavior have only modest implications for both the cost and progressivity of Social Security benefits. • Finally, the cost and distributional effects of earnings-related life expectancy and claiming cannot be addressed through the actuarial adjustments for early and late claiming. They reflect the fact that high earners get their large benefits for a long time and low earners get their more modest benefits for a shorter time.
Authors: Andrew G. Biggs, Anqi Chen, and Alicia H. Munnell
Publication Date: January 2021
Publication Site: Center for Retirement Research at Boston College
Abstract: COVID-19 has resulted in a staggering death toll in the United States: over 215,000 by mid-October 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Black and Latino Americans have experienced a disproportionate burden of COVID-19 morbidity and mortality, reflecting persistent structural inequalities that increase risk of exposure to COVID-19 and mortality risk for those infected. We estimate life expectancy at birth and at age 65 y for 2020, for the total US population and by race and ethnicity, using four scenarios of deaths—one in which the COVID-19 pandemic had not occurred and three including COVID-19 mortality projections produced by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. Our medium estimate indicates a reduction in US life expectancy at birth of 1.13 y to 77.48 y, lower than any year since 2003. We also project a 0.87-y reduction in life expectancy at age 65 y. The Black and Latino populations are estimated to experience declines in life expectancy at birth of 2.10 and 3.05 y, respectively, both of which are several times the 0.68-y reduction for Whites. These projections imply an increase of nearly 40% in the Black−White life expectancy gap, from 3.6 y to over 5 y, thereby eliminating progress made in reducing this differential since 2006. Latinos, who have consistently experienced lower mortality than Whites (a phenomenon known as the Latino or Hispanic paradox), would see their more than 3-y survival advantage reduced to less than 1 y.