Posted Sep 15, 2022, 2:46 PMUpdated on Sep 16, 2022 at 3:42 PM
Seventy-seven versus seventy-six. Last year, Chinese life expectancy at birth surpassed that of Americans (76.1 years). This shift was expected in the middle of the decade, but Beijing’s “zero Covid” strategy precipitated the movement, American historian Adam Tooze points out on his blog. ” This is a historic shift , in a way more revealing than the GDP figures that are usually quoted, ”he writes, sorry to see this human development index plunge in the United States. A cruel statistic, concerning a prosperous, technologically advanced country, in times of peace.
Life expectancy has stagnated across the Atlantic for a decade now. But it plunged with the Covid epidemic, falling 2.7 years in two years, or thirty-one months, according to data published at the end of August by the American health authorities (CDC). Even after the arrival of vaccines, in 2021, and despite the decrease in deaths due to flu, pneumonia, etc., it fell by eleven months. The average American will die before the average Cuban or Albanian, points out Adam Tooze.
An uneven health response
While the United States continued to fall, in France life expectancy at birth recovered in 2021 – even if the slope of the first year of Covid has not been fully recovered. We live there mostly older. French women have lost two and a half months during these two years of crisis, but they can still hope to live 85.4 years. The men gave in nearly five months, at 79.3. Regardless of gender, the French benefit on average six years longer than Americans.
In April, researchers from the universities of Virginia and Colorado compared US data with data from 19 developed countries, and found that the gap in life expectancy had widened between Americans and their peers during that time. They are the only ones not to have experienced demographic catch-up in 2021.
This is partly due to a loose health policy in some states. Republican leaders in Florida or Texas have proudly refused mask requirements – putting freedoms above public health. Vaccination campaigns have not been carried out everywhere with the same intensity either. As a result, less than 68% of Americans are fully vaccinated, compared to nearly 79% of French people, 83% of Canadians.
Beyond these political divisions, the tumble in American life expectancy reflects the weight of social inequalities. The poorest communities, in less good health and with less access to care, have paid a heavy price for Covid. Indians and Alaskans can hardly hope to exceed sixty-five on average, and African Americans seventy. Those two communities have lost 6.6 and four years, respectively, since 2019, compared to 2.4 years for non-Hispanic whites.
The opioid demon
However, the Covid alone does not explain the American dropout. Last year, the excess mortality caused by this disease only accounted for half of the drop in life expectancy, after 74% in 2020, according to the CDC. The United States is also victims of its old demons, in particular the opioid crisis and the rise of violence by firearms, grouped in the category of “accidents”, which weighed up to 16% in 2021.
Overdoses accounted for half of these accidents. The balance sheet over twelve months in March reports 109,000 deaths, almost 10,000 more in one year, and 40,000 in two years. Even though pharmaceutical companies have been prosecuted for having allowed the prescription of super-potent painkillers in abundance, overdoses continue to spread. Heroin addicts have massively fallen back on Fentanyl, 30 to 50 times more powerful, but with shorter effects, which leads to more injections. Others die after unknowingly inoculating themselves with fentanyl-cut heroin. In the United States, one epidemic hides another.