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Covid Takes Another Bite Out of US Life Expectancy

Life expectancy in the U.S. dropped again in 2021, according to a new analysis that tallies the terrible toll Covid-19 continued to take last year. Across all groups, life expectancy fell to 76.60 years in 2021, the lowest level in at least 25 years. Last year’s decline comes on the heels of an even larger drop in 2020, when life expectancy fell from 78.86 to 76.99 – the largest fall since World War II.

Unlike the first year of the pandemic, when deaths were more pronounced among Blacks and Hispanics, white Americans saw the largest loss of life expectancy in 2021. Black and Hispanic Americans actually gained some life expectancy last year, in sharp contrast to the loss of about a third of a year among whites.

The researchers said that specific conditions in the U.S. contributed to the poor performance, including fewer pandemic restrictions and more resistance to vaccines, as well health problems like diabetes and obesity.

The U.S. fared far worse than 19 other wealthy countries researchers examined, including England, France, Italy, South Korea, Spain and Sweden, most of which saw increases in life expectancy in 2021. Noreen Goldman, a demographer at Princeton University who was not involved in the study, told NPR that the report reflects a shameful performance by the U.S. “It just continues to boggle my mind how poorly we've come through this pandemic,” she said. “And I find that disgraceful.”

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