8 States With the Steepest Declines in Life Expectancy

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Man lying in hospital bed
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Life expectancy always seems to increase as time goes by. So, it’s a bit startling to learn that the average life expectancy in the U.S. recently hit a nearly two-decade low.

The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows U.S. life expectancy dropped to 77 years in 2020, down from 78.8 years in 2019.

Of course, there is an easy explanation for much of this regression — the arrival of COVID-19, which has killed more than 1 million Americans since the beginning of 2020.

The CDC says a rise in unintentional injuries — primarily drug overdose deaths — also has played a role in the reduced life expectancy.

The decrease in life expectancy has been sharper in some states than others. Following are the states (and the District of Columbia) with the steepest decline in life expectancy — specifically, the ones where life expectancy declined by more than two years.

1. New York

Nighttime in Times Square, New York City.
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Life expectancy at birth in:

  • 2019: 80.7 years
  • 2020: 77.7 years (a decline of 3 years)

The pandemic hit New York hard, which may account for some of the decline in life expectancy there. But other states had higher rates of COVID-19 deaths on a per-capita basis, so additional factors likely are at play.

Whatever the reason for the decline, reports suggest that New York officials were surprised by the magnitude of the drop.

2. Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C.
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Life expectancy at birth in:

  • 2019: 78 years
  • 2020: 75.3 years (a decline of 2.7 years)

The disparity in life expectancy between men and women is greater in the District of Columbia than in any of the 50 states. Men in the nation’s capital have lifespans that on average are seven years shorter than those of women, according to the CDC. Nationally, the difference is 5.7 years.

3. Louisiana (tie)

Streetcar in New Orleans
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Life expectancy at birth in:

  • 2019: 75.7 years
  • 2020: 73.1 years (a decline of 2.6 years)

Dr. Benjamin Springgate, chief of community and population medicine at LSU Health New Orleans, says the decline in life expectancy in Louisiana was largely a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

However, he tells Louisiana Radio Network that factors beyond the coronavirus also contributed to the unfortunate trend:

“People losing their jobs or access to their health care provider during different times and access to their support networks also placed a lot of strain on people who people who were at risk of overdose death.”

3. New Jersey (tie)

Lavallette, New Jersey
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Life expectancy at birth in:

  • 2019: 80.1 years
  • 2020: 77.5 years (a decline of 2.6 years)

New Jersey ties with Louisiana for No. 3 on the list, with both states recording life expectancy declines of 2.6 years.

The rest of the worst-ranked states

Phoenix, Arizona
bryan-neuswanger / Shutterstock.com

Rounding out the list of states with the steepest declines in life expectancy from 2019 to 2020 are:

  • Arizona: 78.8 to 76.3 — a decline of 2.5 years
  • Mississippi: 74.4 to 71.9 — a decline of 2.5 years
  • New Mexico: 76.9 to 74.5 — a decline of 2.4 years
  • Illinois: 79 to 76.8 — a decline of 2.2 years
  • Texas: 78.6 to 76.5 — a decline of 2.1 years

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