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Here's How Long the CDC Thinks Your Clients Might Live

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The COVID-19 pandemic robbed an average of 1.1 years of life from U.S. 65-year-olds in 2020, according to new data from the National Vital Statistics System, an arm of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The system’s United States Life Tables, 2020 report shows what the government believes happened to U.S. life expectancy that year, based on final 2020 death statistics, census survey data and Medicare data.

Report authors Elizabeth Arias and Dr. Jiaquan Xu found that, when compared with the figures for 2019, the average level of life expectancy at age 65 fell to 18.5 years, from 19.6 years.

For a look at how life expectancy might have changed for your clients between 2019 and 2020, based on the statistics for both men and women, see the slideshow above.

What It Means

Mortality specialists at the American Academy of Actuaries have pointed out that interpreting pandemic-related life expectancy statistics is difficult.

Big, temporary fluctuations in “period life expectancy,” or the life expectancy for people of a certain age in a certain year, might not necessarily have much effect on “cohort life expectancy,” or how long people born in a certain year might actually live.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has had a big effect on U.S. mortality for three straight years.

Private retirement advisors will need to think about life expectancy trends carefully when helping clients with general income planning or post-retirement health care cost planning.

Some clients may have to plan for having a much higher level of uncertainty about how long they’ll live.

If COVID-19 and “long COVID-19″ end up having a lasting effect on overall U.S. life expectancy, advisors might have to work hard to adjust for the reality that life expectancy trends for the average U.S. resident might be much different than life expectancy trends for the relatively careful, high-income people who use professional financial advisors.

Any future life expectancy estimates based on general population data could understate the life expectancy of advisors’ clients.

Demographics and Death

Sex, race and ethnicity had a dramatic effect on period life expectancy in 2020.

In 2020, for example, COVID-19 and other factors cut the average period life expectancy of a non-Hispanic white baby girl by just 1.2 years, to 80.1 years.

The pandemic and related effects slashed the period life expectancy of an American Indian or Alaska Native baby boy born that year by 4.8 years, to just 63.8 years.

Those American Indian and Alaska Native baby boys had a life expectancy at birth lower than the average life expectancy of a baby born in Sudan, according to World Population Review data.

Similarly, at age 65, the average period life expectancy of a non-Hispanic white women fell by just 0.8 years, to 19.9 years.

The average period life expectancy of a 65-year-old American Indian or Alaska Native man fell by 2.1 years, to 14.6 years.

(Image: Min C. Chiu/Shutterstock)