[News] Race Gap in U.S. Life Expectancy Widens as Covid-19 Toll Grows

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Nov 20 13:15:35 EST 2020

Gap in U.S. Life Expectancy Widens as Covid-19 Toll Grows
Sharon Lerner - November 20, 2020

*The gap between* Black and white life expectancy in the U.S. is expected
to widen by as much as 5.17 years by the end of 2020 due to the
disproportionate toll of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a study
<https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.07.12.20148387v3> by Theresa
Andrasfay and Noreen Goldman. The researchers — a postdoctoral fellow in
gerontology from the University of Southern California and a professor of
demography from Princeton University — found that overall, life expectancy
in the U.S. will shrink by more than one year because of the pandemic. For
Black people, the average lifespan will be shortened by just over two
years, while Latinos will see their life expectancy from birth reduced by
more than three years. Meanwhile, the pandemic will shave just over eight
months off the white lifespan.

Since the U.S. began compiling data on life expectancy in 1930, white
people have lived longer on average than Black people. Those early
calculations showed the difference between the two groups to be a startling
13.3 years. With a few exceptions, over the past 90 years, the race gap has
slowly and steadily become smaller to the point where, in 2017, white
people lived 3.6 years longer on average than Black people. But the
coronavirus has suddenly and forcefully disrupted that progress.

The overall drop in life expectancy in the U.S. — from 78.6 years in 2017
to a projected 77.5 in 2020 — appears to be the greatest reduction since
the pandemic of 1918, which is estimated to have taken more than seven
years off the average lifespan in the U.S., according to the study, which
is awaiting peer review.

But the biggest impact of the pandemic, which has already killed more than
251,000 in the U.S., is on people of color. The death rate from Covid-19
among Black people — 114.3 for every 100,000 people — is almost double the
61.7 per 100,000 death rate for white people. Indigenous Americans and
Latinos also have significantly higher death rates from Covid-19 than
whites, according to the APM Research Lab
<https://www.apmresearchlab.org/covid/deaths-by-race>, which last updated
its data on November 12. Black people accounted for 18.7 percent of deaths
from Covid-19 but make up just 12.5 percent of the U.S. population,
according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention <https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6942e1.htm#T1_down>.

While Latinos will see the greatest reduction in their lifespans, according
to the study, they generally live longer than white people in the U.S. In
2017, their life expectancy was 81.8 years, more than three years greater
than white life expectancy. In 2020, the pandemic is expected to all but
wipe away this longevity advantage, known as the Latino paradox
Inequality Throughout Life

The historic race gap between white and Black lifespan in the U.S. is due
to inequality in both living circumstances and health care. Black people in
the U.S are more likely to be poor and unemployed and are
disproportionately exposed to gun violence
environmental pollution
and unsafe working conditions. Black people in the U.S. also receive inferior
health care
and are more likely to be uninsured

The inequities take their toll from the earliest point in life, with Black
infants far more likely to be underweight at birth
and die
health disparities continuing through adulthood. Black people have a
greater share of many chronic diseases, including diabetes, stroke, and
heart disease
and the nation’s highest death rate from most cancers.

The disproportionate burden of these long-term conditions set older people
of color up for more severe and deadly cases of Covid-19. But the undue
racial impacts of the coronavirus can be also seen at the earliest stages
of life.

[image: The Coronavirus Crisis]Read Our Complete CoverageThe Coronavirus
Crisis <https://theintercept.com/collections/the-coronavirus-crisis/>

“There’s a really big disparity in terms of mortality, with Black and
Hispanic kids much more likely to die than white kids,” said Elizabeth
Pathak, an epidemiologist who created the COVKID Project
<https://www.covkidproject.org/> to track Covid-19 in children. According
to data
group analyzed from the CDC and the National Center for Health
Statistics, American Indian/Alaska Native children and teens are 7.6 times
more likely to die from Covid-19 than non-Hispanic white children and
teens; Black children and teens are 5.3 times more likely to die from the
disease; and Hispanic children and teens are 4.7 times more likely to die
from it.

Like the preexisting health disparities, the disproportionate impact of the
pandemic is due to racism — and the consequences of living in a society
that doles out privileges and protections unequally — rather than race
itself. The greater likelihood of being unable to work from home and living
in a crowded household contribute to Black people’s higher chances of
contracting Covid-19 while decreased access to medical care and a higher
prevalence of underlying conditions worsen the impact of those infections.

Even racist attitudes can affect the impact of the coronavirus, according
to a study
published Wednesday in PLOS ONE. The authors, who used data
<https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/> about people’s self-professed
biases about race as a proxy for racism, found that levels of racial bias
in U.S. counties tracked with both Covid-19 cases and deaths. “Our study
showed that explicit and implicit forms of racism predicted cases even
beyond the county demographics,” said George B. Cunningham, a professor at
Texas A&M University and one of the study’s authors. “Racial attitudes
reflect deeper biases that are embedded into systems within society. It
shows that racism negatively impacts health.”

While there was little question before that racism impacted lifespan, the
already glaring gap between Black and white life expectancies has been
brought into dramatic relief by the pandemic. The years lopped off Black
and brown lives in 2020 are about 10 times as large as the annual drops in
life expectancy due to “deaths of despair
that were observed in 2015, 2016, and 2017. Those contractions of life
expectancy — about a month each — were largely due to increased deaths by
suicides, drug overdose, and alcohol poisoning among low-income white
people without a college degree and rightly sparked a search for policy

The dramatic new data on shortened lifespans are yet another indication of
the abject failure of the United States to respond to the biggest public
health crisis of our times.
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