(The Hill) — New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that more Americans died in 2021 than in any other year in the nation’s history, as the coronavirus pandemic raged and death rates attributed to cancer, diabetes and strokes rose.
The data published through the end of the third quarter of the year shows a death rate of 1,058.8 per 100,000 Americans, a nearly 10% increase over the 12-month period the prior year and a 21% jump from 2019.
The rising-rate meant nearly 3.5 million Americans died in the 12 months that ended in September 2021, the highest number of deaths ever recorded in the U.S. in a single year.
Much of the rising death toll was caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which cost 415,000 American lives in 2021, a higher figure than during the first year of the outbreak, even though vaccines were widely available for most of the year. The coronavirus was responsible for more than 1 in 10 deaths in the U.S. last year, the CDC data shows.
Other causes of mortality rose slightly. Chronic liver disease claimed more lives, while deaths from diabetes, heart disease and strokes increased.
The data is not complete, but early signs suggest that deaths related to drug overdoses spiked substantially as well. Provisional data shows more than 105,000 Americans died of drug overdoses last year, up more than 10% from the year before.
The unprecedented death toll has meant the average life expectancy for an American likely continued to decline in the last year, a string of decreases not seen since the Spanish Flu pandemic more than a century ago.
A study by researchers at the Urban Institute, the University of Colorado and Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) estimated that the U.S. life expectancy dropped last year to 76.6 years, down more than two years from the rate in 2019. At the same time, life expectancy rates in other wealthy countries increased between 2020 and 2021, after registering a smaller decrease the year before.
“While other high-income countries saw their life expectancy increase in 2021, recovering about half their losses, U.S. life expectancy continued to fall,” VCU sociologist Steven Woolf, one of the study’s authors, said in a statement. “This speaks volumes about the life consequences of how the U.S. handled the pandemic, and in a country where the U.S. Constitution and the 10th Amendment grant public health authority to the states, I believe the U.S. catastrophe speaks volumes about the policies and behaviors of U.S. governors — at least some of them.”
Life expectancy has dropped the most in recent years among Hispanic and Black populations, which researchers attributed to “the legacy of systemic racism and inadequacies in the U.S. handling of the pandemic.”
Ryan Masters, a sociologist at the University of Colorado and the study’s lead author, said high rates of obesity and heart disease made the U.S. population more vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic than populations in other wealthy countries.