Last week, we discussed that the life expectancy in the U.S. had dropped significantly in 2020. At first it seems obviously related to a raging pandemic, over 600,000 souls lost and countless other survivors impacted by the infection. But what the numbers brought to the foreground was that the drop in life expectancy was significantly disproportionate between whites and non whites. The devastating loss of life was significantly worse for those of color, making it clear how little progress we’ve made in providing equal care to all.
The average U.S. life expectancy dropped by over a year in the first half of 2020, with Covid-19 being the third leading cause of death in the United States according to a new report from the National Center for Health Statistics, a part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Disproportionate amount of death among minority groups
The pandemic has resulted in an unthinkable amount of death in the United States, with a disproportionate number of deaths occurring among the Black and Latino populations. and it largely wasn’t directly attributed to Covid-19. While the life expectancy in 2020 was reduced by 1.13 years for the White population, that estimate is increased by 3-4x for the Black and Latino population. “African Americans saw their life expectancy decrease by 3.3 years and Hispanic Americans saw their life expectancy decrease by 3.9 years,” said Steven Woolf. Woolf is of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine and is an an author of the study released in June 2021 (which is based off of data from the National Center for Health Statistics and includes simulated estimates for 2020). These startling numbers close the progress made over the past ten years on the life expectancy gap between Black and White people, and also reduces the Latino mortality levels by over 70% from their pre-pandemic levels.
“This [information] further destroys the myth that the United States is the healthiest place in the world to live,” says Dr. Richard Besser, president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. He said wide differences in life expectancy rates were evident before COVID-19. “For example, life expectancy in Princeton, NJ—a predominantly White community—is 14 years higher than Trenton, NJ, a predominantly Black and Latino city only 14 miles away,” Besser said.
“We know that these racial ethnic disparities in COVID-19 are the result of pre-pandemic realities. It’s a legacy of structural discrimination that has limited access to health and wealth for people of color,” Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, director of the Equity Research and Innovation Center at Yale School of Medicine, said in an interview in May.
In a new analysis provided by Johns Hopkins Center for Health Equity, data hows that the coronavirus infection rate for Blacks is 62 per 10,000, compared with 23 per 10,000 for whites. Latinos fared even worse, with 73 infections per 10,000. Blacks and Latinos who contract the disease “are more likely to suffer from pre-existing conditions which increase the risk of severe illness,” the report noted. Both of those groups are more than four times as likely to require hospitalization as a result of contracting the disease, it said. This information underscores the inequality within healthcare and access to care amongst minority groups, as well as other socio-economic disparities.
The Johns Hopkins report notes that Blacks and Latinos are more likely to live in crowded housing and less likely to hold jobs that allow them to work from home. The analysis further explained that Whites were nearly 50% more likely to be able to work from home as their Latino counterparts, and 35% more likely than Blacks.
We can’t keep ignoring societal inequalities that limits access to everything required to live a healthy, safe life- housing, food, jobs, insurance, healthcare. The ability to get care, financial factors that limit access to care, working and living in close quarters have put people of color into situations that disproportionately devastated their communities. The pandemic has made it impossible to ignore disparities that have existed for far too long. It’s inexcusable in the wealthiest nation in the world.
Next week we’ll talk about how race and gender bias impact not only COVID outcomes, but all aspects of medical care.