Data recently released by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that US life expectancy has once again fallen, with COVID-19 a primary culprit. The life span which could be expected for someone born in 2021 fell to 76.1 years, the lowest since 1996. For males 73.2 years could be expected, with 79.1 years for females.

The decline of 0.9 year in life expectancy between 2020 and 2021 pushed the overall drop between 2019 and 2021 to 2.7 years. Decades of gains in this key measure of overall health and societal progress have been wiped out, with some racial/ethnic groups hit particularly hard.

The non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native (AIAN) population experienced the largest drop, from 67.1 in 2020 to 65.2 years in 2021, which equals the total US life expectancy in 1944. The non-Hispanic White population had the second greatest decline (77.4 to 76.4), while life expectancy for the non-Hispanic Black population declined from 71.5 to 70.8 years. The Hispanic population saw a decrease from 77.9 years to 77.7 years, the lowest since that series started in 2006. The life expectancy for Asians remains the longest at 83.5, although down from 85.6 in 2019.

The 2021 decline was driven by increases in mortality due to COVID-19 (50.0% of the negative contribution), unintentional injuries (15.9%), heart disease (4.1%), chronic liver disease and cirrhosis (3.0%), and suicide (2.1%). The decline would have been worse except for lower mortality due to influenza and pneumonia (38.5%), chronic lower respiratory diseases (28.8%), Alzheimer disease (18.3%), perinatal conditions (6.3%), and Parkinson’s disease (2.3%).

Clearly there are multiple factors in many cases, with COVID-19 often being the proximate cause of death for someone also afflicted with another condition such as Alzheimer disease or Parkinson’s disease. Thus, the data shouldn’t be interpreted as indicating sustainable improvement in these chronic conditions.

The increase in deaths due to unintentional injuries (primarily drug overdoses) is particularly troubling. Such deaths contributed to increased rates in younger population segments. They were the leading cause – even higher than COVID-19 – contributing to the decline in life expectancy for the Hispanic population (31.2%) and were second for non-Hispanic Black (at 22.7%), non-Hispanic AIAN (21.3%), and non-Hispanic White (11.8%) populations.

In addition to the incalculable human toll, these outcomes have profound economic effects, both in tightening an already strained labor market and escalating health-related costs. As COVID-19 reaches a more endemic stage and more and better treatments are available, death rates should subside. Reversing the tragic upward trend in overdoses is imperative. A prosperous and forward-looking nation should be characterized by longer lives. In fact, it is the very essence of progress. There is much to be done. Stay safe.  

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by Texas-based economist M. Ray Perryman. Perryman is president and chief executive officer of The Perryman Group (www.perrymangroup.com). The Perryman Group has served the needs of more than 2,500 clients over the past four decades. The above column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian International News Service with the permission of the author. Perryman can be reached by email via: [email protected].


Quality journalism takes time, effort and…. Money!

Producing quality journalism is not cheap. The coronavirus has resulted in falling revenues across the newsrooms of the United States. However, The Rio Grande Guardian International News Service is committed to producing quality news reporting on the issues that matter to border residents. The support of our members is vital in ensuring our mission gets fulfilled. 

Can we count on your support? If so, click HERE. Thank you!


Keep on top of the big stories affecting the Texas-Mexico. Join our mailing list to receive regular email alerts.

Sign-up for the latest news


By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: . You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact