U.S. death rate soared 17% in 2020, final CDC mortality report concludes

Death rates for Americans ages 15 and older rose sharply in 2020, hitting Black and Hispanic Americans the hardest, according to a report released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The report — the agency’s finalized data on 2020 death rates — confirmed that life expectancy in the United States fell last year by nearly two years, the largest one-year drop since World War II.

“We normally don’t see declines of life expectancy of this magnitude,” said Bob Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch at the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. “Usually when we see fluctuations in life expectancy, it’s only for a couple months of the year, so this is quite significant.”

Life expectancy overall fell from 78.8 years in 2019 to 77 years in 2020. For males, the average life expectancy fell  2.1 years, from 76.3 in 2019 to 74.2 in 2020. For women, the average decrease was 1.5 years, from 81.4 in 2019 to 79.9 in 2020.

“One of the most jolting things in the report is the racial disparities,” said Dr. Steven Woolf, director emeritus of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University.

The average age-adjusted death rate increased by nearly 17 percent, from 715.2 deaths per 100,000 people in 2019, to 835.4 deaths per 100,000 people in 2020. But the increase for Black and Hispanic Americans was far greater.

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