The average life expectancy of a child born in the United States dropped by a year and a half in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What has caused the projected decline? The CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics says the deadly COVID-19 virus is mostly to blame.

On average, a newborn child brought into the world in the United States last year will have a life expectancy of 77.3 years, the CDC reports. Babies in little blue hats are projected to make it to 74.5, while a girl born in the United States during 2020 will likely blow out no more than 80 candles on a birthday cake, according to the CDC’s data.

  • The decline is the largest single year drop in life expectancy since World War II, The Associated Press reported. “And it was just a fraction of the drop between 1917 and 1918, when World War I and a Spanish flu pandemic devastated younger generations,” reported the AP.
  • Life expectancy rates recovered after declines during the World Wars and 1917-18 flu pandemic, according to the AP, and will likely bounce back again — but some experts said it could be years until that recovery.

Race is a factor in U.S. life expectancy

For Hispanics and non-Hispanic Black Americans, the decline in life expectancy was even more dire.

Between 2019 and 2020, the life expectancy rate of Hispanics born in the U.S. fell by 3.0 years — from 81.8 to 78.8 — and by 2.9 years for non-Hispanic Blacks to 71.8 years, reported the CDC. The life expectancy of a non-Hispanic white child born last year dropped 1.2 years, meaning that child will likely not see a 78th birthday, according to the CDC.

Lesley Curtis, Duke University’s Department of Population Health Sciences chairman, told National Public Radio that “it is impossible to look at these findings and not see a reflection of the systemic racism in the U.S.”

  • “The range of factors that play into this include income inequality, the social safety net, as well as racial inequality and access to health care,” said Curtis, NPR reported.

The coronavirus wasn’t the only killer in the United States last year

The CDC said the coronavirus pandemic — which, since its beginning, has killed more than 609,000 people in the U.S. — was the leading cause of life expectancy decline in the United States. But that wasn’t the only reason.

According to the CDC, these mortality rates also increased during 2020:

  • In men, mortality rates increased in the categories of “unintentional injuries (14.0%), homicide (4.4%), diabetes (2.4%) and chronic liver disease and cirrhosis (2.3%).”
  • In women, mortality rates increased in the categories of “unintentional injuries (6.8%), diabetes (2.7%), chronic liver disease and cirrhosis (2.3%) and homicide (1.0%).”

According to Elizabeth Arias, the lead author of the report, “drug overdoses pushed life expectancy down, particularly for whites. And rising homicides were a small but significant reason for the decline for Black Americans,” reported the AP.

Black and Hispanic communities were affected by other problems, like “lack of access to quality health care, more crowded living conditions, and a greater share of the population in lower-paying jobs that required them to keep working when the pandemic was at its worst,” the AP reported.