US life expectancy declines for three years in a row

By Brian Williams
December 23, 2019

One of the most gruesome results of the impact of the economic and social crisis of capitalism today is that life expectancy in the U.S. has fallen for three straight years. Since 2010, mortality rates for workers in their prime working years between 25 and 64 have increased in nearly every state, according to a Nov. 26 report by the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The main causes are opioid drug overdoses, which have killed some 250,000 people in recent years, as well as alcohol abuse and suicides. But the declining availability of quality and affordable health care for millions of workers has also led to more deaths from heart disease, strokes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other medical conditions.

The entire working class is being affected, the New York Times reported the same day. While “the focus has been on the plight of white Americans in rural areas who were dying from so-called deaths of despair,” the paper said, the report shows “that the increased death rates among people in midlife extended to all racial and ethnic groups, and to suburbs and cities.”

Since 1959 life expectancy in the U.S. had increased from 69.9 to 78.9 years old. But in 2011 the lifespan stopped growing and, in 2014, started to decline, a trend that continued over the next two years.

The states with the greatest increase in death rates among young and middle-aged adults — 20 percent and over — were New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, West Virginia and Ohio.

The deaths were most concentrated in industrial areas where the loss of manufacturing jobs, and the closure of steel mills, auto plants and coal mines have uprooted the lives of working people and entire communities. Four states — Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Indiana — accounted for fully one-third of the increased death rates.

“Something changed in the 1980s,” the report’s lead author Steven Woolf, told the Times, “which is when the growth in our life expectancy began to slow down compared to other wealthy nations.”

What “changed” is the capitalist rulers deepening offensive against the working class as they’ve sought to offload the deepening crisis of their system onto our backs. And this has been heightened by U.S. imperialism’s seemingly endless wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East and the number of workers who return home injured, facing the crisis in the Veterans Affairs department that mean months of delay in medical care.