Beyond the Technical

Life expectancy at birth in the United States is now 76.1 years, the lowest level since 1996, according to a recent CDC report.

Provisional data showed there was a 0.9 year drop in 2021. Paired with a 1.8 year drop in 2020, the U.S. experienced the biggest two-year decline in life expectancy since 1921-23.

Robert Hummer, Howard W. Odum Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Carolina Population Center faculty fellow, studies U.S. mortality and health disparities.

“Obviously, we have to think about COVID-19,” commented Hummer. “The U.S. experienced a tremendous amount of COVID-19 mortality both in 2020 and 2021. We’re seeing that in 2022 to date as well. But the story is not all COVID-based. We’ve also seen increases in rates of mortality due to drug-related deaths, suicide, liver disease, traffic accidents, homicides and even heart disease over the last two years.”

When asked what to do to raise life expectancy, Hummer noted that while technical innovation for health problems continues to be successful, social and economic inequalities lead to poorer health outcomes.

“We have to keep developing those technical solutions, but we also need to be much more aggressive in developing social and economic solutions to our health problems as well,” Hummer continued. “This includes reducing racial, ethnic and income inequalities, curbing racism, making sure every kid gets a decent education and enhancing programs like minimum wage and access to child care. If we do those things, new health problems or pandemics will cause much less destruction compared with the tremendously unequal society we currently live in.”

Read the full Q&A with Robert Hummer…

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