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Mississippi had lowest life expectancy in U.S. in 2019, while Hawaii's was highest

A report from the National Center for Health Statistics ranked all 50 states and Washington, D.C., in order of residents’ life expectancies before the pandemic.
Image: A man walks through town on in Biloxi, Miss., on Jan. 3, 2016.
A man walks in Biloxi, Miss., on Jan. 3, 2016.Spencer Platt / Getty Images file

The majority of U.S. states with the lowest life expectancies in 2019 were in the South, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report published Thursday.

The report, from the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, ranked all 50 states and Washington, D.C., in order of residents' life expectancies in the year before the pandemic took hold. The results showed that Mississippi had the country's lowest life expectancy, at 74.4 years, which was significantly below the national average of 78.8. Hawaii, meanwhile, had the highest: 80.9 years.

After Mississippi, West Virginia, Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, South Carolina and Ohio had the lowest life expectancies. All were below the national average.

While the report did not touch on poverty levels, Mississippi also had the greatest share of people — 19.5 percent — living below the poverty line in 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Similarly, other states with low life expectancies had high shares of residents under the poverty line. Louisiana, West Virginia, Kentucky, Arkansas, Alabama, Oklahoma, Tennessee and South Carolina all had more than 13.5 percent of the population below that line in 2019.

"When you look at the map of life expectancy, and if you were to look at a map of socioeconomic status — which includes poverty, education attainment — you would see that they would look very similar," said Elizabeth Arias, the lead author of the new report.

"Mortality from the leading causes of death are higher in those areas — heart disease, cancer, stroke," Arias added.

Research on life expectancies at the neighborhood level has revealed similar trends, she said.

"Life expectancy really correlated with the socioeconomic status of the population in the area," Arias said. "Really well-to-do areas had really high life expectancies."

Nine percent of Hawaii residents lived below the poverty line in 2019.

After Hawaii, the states with the highest life expectancies in 2019 were California, New York, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Washington state, Colorado and Vermont.

The new report also found that life expectancy was higher for women in all states and Washington, D.C.

"The difference in life expectancy between females and males ranged from 3.5 years in Utah to 6.4 years in Mississippi," the report said.

Notably absent from the new report, of course, is the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, since the U.S. confirmed its first case in January 2020. Covid was the third-leading cause of death in 2020, after heart disease and cancer. Overall, life expectancy in the U.S. fell by nearly two years in 2020, from 78.8 years to 77. The average age-adjusted death rate increased by nearly 17 percent between 2019 and 2020.

A state-by-state comparison of life expectancies in 2020 will be released next year.

"I’m sure it’s going to look really different than what we saw in 2019," Arias said.

The new report also does not mention race, but the sharp rises in death rates in 2020 hit Black and Hispanic Americans the hardest, according to the CDC.

Death rates increased nearly 43 percent for Hispanic men and more than 32 percent for Hispanic women in 2020. Death rates for Black men rose by 28 percent and by almost 25 percent for Black women. That's compared to roughly 13 percent for white men and 12 percent for white women. 

The CDC started tracking and analyzing mortality rates by state annually in 2018, and Arias said the state-level reports on life expectancy will include data on race and Hispanic origin in the "not too distant future."

She explained that data issues — "the most important being misclassification on death certificate" — have thus far prevented the CDC from being able to include those breakdowns. The Native American population, she said, is most affected by the misclassifications.