New federal data that literally chronicles life and death issues reveals that the life expectancies of Black and White Americans are converging.
The New York Times mined data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics and National Vital Statistics System and reports that the gap between the number of years each race lives shrunk from seven years in 1990 to 3.4 years in 2014, making it the smallest such gap in history. Overall, the average White person living in America lives to be 79 years old, while their Black counterpart lives 75.6 years.
The article attributes the shift to:
- A drop in the suicide rate for Black men
- A 20+ percent decrease in infant mortality rates for Black children
- A 40 percent decrease in Black homicide deaths
- A 29 percent decrease in the cancer death rate for Blacks
- A drop in White life expectancy driven by heroin overdoses
“Blacks are catching up,” University of Pennsylvania demographer Samuel Preston told The Times. “The gap is now the narrowest it has been since the beginning of the 20th century, and that’s really good news.”
But David R. Williams, a professor of African-American studies and public health at Harvard University, says this narrowing of the gap doesn’t mean there’s not still work to be done in addressing the disparities that separate Whites and Blacks. “We have had this peculiar indifference to this unprecedented loss of Black lives on a massive scale for a very long time,” he said. “That to me is the big story.”