Lenny Bernstein at WP:
U.S. life expectancy continued its steady, alarming decline in 2021, as covid-19 and illegal drugs took the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans, according to final government data released Thursday.
Even as some peer nations began to bounce back from the toll of the pandemic, life expectancy in the U.S. dropped to 76.4 years at birth, down from 77 in 2020, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics. That means Americans can expect to live as long as they did in 1996 — a dismal benchmark for a reliable measure of health that should rise steadily in an affluent, developed nation. (In August, using preliminary data, the agency had pegged life expectancy in 2021 at 76.1 years.)
The data reinforces a trend line of American longevity declining relative to that of its peer nations. A child born in the United States in 2019, for instance, could expect to live to 78.5, according to the World Health Organization, while a Japanese child born that year had a life expectancy of 84.5, Belgians lived to 81.4 and Swedes lived to 82.4.
The 2021 decline was the second consecutive drop for the United States and the continuation of a trend that began in the middle of the last decade, when “deaths of despair” — those caused by drug oerdoses, suicide and alcoholism — rose markedly.
It also contrasted with rebounding life expectancy rates in some other nations as they brought the covid pandemic under greater control with vaccines and masking. A study of 29 countries published in August in the journal Nature Human Behavior found that eight experienced significant life expectancy “bounce backs” in 2021.
In 2021, a total of 3,464,231 resident deaths were registered in the United States—80,502 more deaths than in 2020. The number of deaths for which COVID-19 was the underlying cause of death increased 18.8% from 350,831 in 2020 to 416,893 in 2021. The age-adjusted death rate for the total population increased 5.3% in 2021 from 2020 after an increase of 16.8% from 2019 to 2020 (1). The decrease in life expectancy for the total population of 0.6 year from 2020 to 2021 was lower than the decline of 1.8 years from 2019 to 2020 (2). Age-specific death rates from 2020 to 2021 increased for each age group 1 year and over. Age-adjusted death rates decreased in 2021 from 2020 for Hispanic males and non-Hispanic Black males, remained unchanged statistically for non-Hispanic Asian males and non-Hispanic Asian females, and increased for all other race and ethnicity groups for both males and females.
Of the 10 leading causes of death in 2021, 9 remained the same as in 2020. Heart disease was the leading cause of death, followed by cancer and COVID-19. Age-adjusted death rates increased for 8 leading causes and decreased for 2. Life expectancy at birth decreased 0.6 year from 77.0 in 2020 to 76.4 in 2021, largely because of increases in mortality due to COVID-19, unintentional injuries, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, suicide, and homicide.
In 2021, 19,920 deaths occurred in children under age 1 year, which was 338 more infant deaths than in 2020. The change in the IMR from 2020 to 2021 was not statistically significant. Among the 10 leading causes of infant death, the decrease in IMR for one cause (low birth weight) was significant.
Data and findings in this report are based on final mortality data and may differ from provisional data and findings previously published.