Thomas Gallatin / February 19, 2021

Why Americans’ Life Expectancy Sank in 2020

The impact of economic shutdowns was more devastating than many have been led to believe.

“Pandemic cut U.S. life expectancy by a year during the first half of 2020,” blared a Washington Post headline, with the implication being that the direct cause of the decline was COVID-19. However, within the first paragraph of the story it becomes clear that the coronavirus is far from the primary cause. Rather, the article states that “deaths from drug overdoses, heart attacks and diseases that accompanied the outbreak” had much to do with the downturn in life expectancy. In 2020, Americans’ average life expectancy dropped from 78.8 to 77.8 years of age.

In other words, aggressive economic lockdowns and social-distancing mandates played a considerable role in lowering Americans’ life expectancy. Was this not the constant concern raised by many conservatives who were repeatedly shouted down and accused by leftists of not caring about people dying?

The Post observes, “In the early months of 2020, some seriously ill people delayed seeking health care out of fear of the new and lethal virus. In an October study, the CDC estimated that perhaps a third of these ‘excess deaths’ — the number of deaths greater than would be expected in a typical year — were caused by factors other than covid-19.” That’s quite an admission.

If American politicians had not panicked in the face of the novel virus and not shut down the country, then perhaps a third of the folks who died without COVID could have avoided death. The story quotes Princeton economics professor Anne Case, who says, “There is nothing good to be said.”

Given this reality, why are there still states today continuing these draconian lockdown measures? It is literally killing people.

The Post goes on to note that this is the first time since World War II that Americans’ life expectancy dropped this significantly, and the article highlights the fact that the biggest drop was among black and Hispanic Americans. So is the virus racist? Hardly. Has the response more adversely affected minorities? That’s likely, but not in a way that fits the leftist narrative.

While the Post cites the fact that comorbidity factors like higher rates of obesity and diabetes are more prevalent among minority communities, the one factor not mentioned may be the most significant: Both the black and Hispanic communities, especially in densely populated inner cities, tend to rely more heavily on government welfare and government-provided services more generally than do other Americans. In so doing, the failure of government to meet needs and maintain these services will have an outsized impact on those who have learned to depend on them.

If anything, this should be a lesson — a hard one — on the limits of government in providing service, but also in providing direction. In a free society, people should weigh the information and data available for themselves. They can come to their own convictions and act accordingly, not look to government officials to direct them.

(Updated.)

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