Californians aren’t living as long as they used to. Here’s why

Beachgoers crowd the Venice Beach boardwalk on Aug. 27.
Beachgoers crowd the Venice Beach boardwalk on Saturday. New data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that Californians’ life expectancy has declined.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The average life expectancy of Californians has dramatically declined in the last year, according to new data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Californians are losing, on average, two years of their lives, per the CDC’s latest National Vital Statistics Report, which tracked mortality rates for all 50 states from 2019 to 2020. The report shows that every state and the District of Columbia experienced a drop in life expectancy, with the national average being 77 years — one year shorter than the previous year’s study at 78.

The states with the greatest declines in life expectancies include those in the “Southwest and U.S.-Mexico border area,” including Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Washington, D.C., and New Jersey. The data in the study was compiled using final death counts from the National Vital Statistics System, population numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau and state-specific death and population counts from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.


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Last year, California ranked second for having the highest life expectancy rate in the country, behind Hawaii. While Hawaii held its top position in this year’s report, with an average life expectancy of 80.7 years, California dropped to fourth place, tied with Massachusetts and New Hampshire, with a new average of 79 years. Women in California seem to be faring better than men, with a life expectancy of 82 years for women and 76 for men — down from 78 when compared to the previous year’s report.

What’s the cause of these shorter lifespans? COVID-19.

Overall life expectancy in the United States declined by an average of 1.8 years, “mostly due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the study says. In 2020 alone, COVID-19 accounted for at least 400,000 confirmed deaths, but that number has surpassed 1 million since the start of the pandemic in 2019 — the largest spike in mortalities in the U.S. in the past 100 years, per the Census Bureau.

For the first time in a decade, the mortality rate for Latinos in L.A. County surpasses that of white residents, starting in 2020 — with the pandemic.

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According to California’s COVID-19 dashboard, the state has experienced 94,047 COVID deaths, and the virus is the third-leading cause of death in the state, per the CDC.

Another factor that plays into the decline in life expectancy throughout the country is an increase in “unintentional injuries,” mainly from drug overdoses, the report states.

There were an estimated 107,622 drug overdoses in the U.S. in 2021 — up 15% from 2020, according to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. Synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl, were responsible for 71,238 deaths — the leading cause of drug-related fatalities in 2021, followed by psychostimulants, such as methamphetamine, and cocaine and prescription drugs.

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The other six states in the top 10 in life expectancy are No. 2 Washington (79.2 years), No. 3 Minnesota (79.1), No. 7 Vermont (78.8), No. 8 Oregon (78.8), No. 9 Utah (78.6) and No. 10 Connecticut (78.4).