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Shorter Life Spans Cost U.S. Millions of Jobs

AARP report projects how racial gaps in life expectancy could affect the economy by 2030

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More than 10 million potential jobs could be lost by 2030 due to the disparities in life spans among Black, Hispanic and white Americans, according to a new AARP report. The lost consumer spending due to these differences in life expectancy could cost the nation an estimated $1.1 trillion during that same period.

For many years, there have been significant differences in how long a person could expect to live based on their race. For example, the National Center for Health Statistics estimated that based on 2020 data, the overall life expectancy for Americans was 77.8 years. But while whites have a life expectancy of 78 years, African Americans have a life expectancy of just 72 years. Hispanics, meanwhile, have projected life span of 79.9 years. The life expectancy for all these groups dropped significantly during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, with African Americans seeing the largest drop, a loss of an estimated 2.7 years.

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To figure how much those differences cost the nation, AARP compared two different scenarios. The first estimated the economic impact if those racial disparities in life span continued through 2030. The second evaluated how much the nation might benefit if there were equal life expectancy among all groups.

There would be 5.9 million more people in the United Stated in 2030 if these gaps in life expectancy were addressed. Most of that increase (92 percent) would be among people age 50 and older.

“Eliminating disparities is an economic, national and ethical imperative,” says Jean Accius, senior vice president of global thought leadership at AARP. “Measures must be taken to empower people and make systems equitable, opportunities attainable and resources accessible. Steps to counter these consequences include, but aren’t limited to, increasing access to affordable health care, housing, jobs programs, social connection and food security.” 

Among the key findings of the report:

  • The racial disparities in life expectancy could cost the nation 10.1 million jobs and $934 billion in wages and salaries in 2030.
  • Some types of businesses will be harder hit than others. Construction, education, finance and the health sectors could face disproportionate losses of potential jobs. These losses also would heavily affect 50-plus workers, who account for 77 percent of labor force participants who would be able to remain active in the workforce longer if the life expectancy disparities were addressed.
  • The disparities in life expectancy could lead to an average drop in life expectancy at age 50 of three years for men and 3.2 years for women, with Black men and Black women falling behind by 4.6 and 3.9 years, respectively.
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The report also cites the steps that AARP is taking to address some of the inequities that contribute to the gaps in life expectancy. AARP Illinois, for example, is advocating for legislation to expand retirement savings programs, property tax relief, health insurance coverage, broadband access and digital literacy programs for communities of color throughout the state. AARP New York is working to ensure adequate funding for home- and community-based services and to increase enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that will allow recipients to shop for food online and have it delivered to their homes.