Americans Are Dying and Dying … and Dying

“The Garden of Death” painting exposed at Tampere Cathedral – Finland – Public Domain

Every day one hears about someone dying. It could be a loved one, aging relative or a neighbor; it could be a screaming media headline about the latest mass killing or a hold-up gone wrong; or a stranger killed on the corner by a hit-and-run driver or in a car accident.  And the bodies are piling up.

Over the last century life expectancy in the U.S. has significantly increased.  In 1900, for males it was 46.2 and for females it was 48.3 years. By 1950, life expectancy for males reached 65.3 and for females was 71.1 years.

However, between 2021 and 2022, life expectancy in the U.S. declined from 77.0 to 76.1 years and the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) reports that this is the lowest level since 1996; for 2022, it increased to 79.05 years.  In 2021, life expectancy for males was 73.2 years and for females 79.9 years, and by 2022, male life expectancy reached 73.9 and for females 79.5.

The Covid pandemic lasted 23 months, from March 2020 to February 2022.  During this period, that nation endured what scholars refer to “excess mortality,” i.e., “the difference between expected and observed mortality in a given period ….”  These scholars estimated there were “1,159,580 excess deaths occurred during the first two years of the pandemic (first: 620,872; second: 538,708).”

Between 2020 and 2021, the NCHS reports, “In 2021, a total of 3,464,231 resident deaths were registered in the United States—80,502 more deaths than in 2020.” In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, it reports, “The age-adjusted death rate for the total population increased 5.3% in 2021 from 2020 after an increase of 16.8% from 2019 to 2020.”

Perhaps more alarming, a Yale School of Public Health study found “the excess death rate for Republican voters was 5.4 percentage points, or 76%, higher than the excess death rate for Democratic voters.” It went further, noting, “After COVID-19 vaccines became widely available, the excess death rate gap between Republicans and Democrats widened from 1.6 percentage points to 10.4 percentage points.”

In addition to Covid, the four other leading causes of death were heart disease, cancer, unintentional injuries and stroke.


More worrisome than natural causes of death like heart disease, cancer and Covid-19, are social causes of death, the most alarming is gun violence.  The Gun Violence Archive (GVA) reports that in 2022, 44,305 people were killed and another 38,567 were injured by guns. Perhaps most alarming, more Americans died of suicide (24,090) than homicides, murders and unintentional killings.  Worse yet, nearly one thousand children under 11 years were killed (314) and injured (682) by guns – and nearly 5,000 teems (age 12-17) were victims of guns violence with 1,381 killed and 3,803 injured.

The GVA also reports that in 2022 647 people died from “mass shooting” and 36 from “mass murder.”  It advises readers, “Mass Shootings are, for the most part an American phenomenon.”  It adds, a “mass shooting” is based “based ONLY on the numeric value of 4 or more shot or killed, not including the shooter.”

As of April 7, 2023, the GVA reports, 11,129 people died of gun violence, and of these 6,402 died of suicide and 4,727 died from homicides, murders and unintentional killings.  Worse yet, 65 children under 11 years were killed and 149 were injured; and over 1,300 teens (age 12-17) were either killed (385) or injured (933) by gun violence.

A second worrisome cause of deaths is maternal deaths. The World Health Organization defines it as “the death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy, irrespective of the duration and the site of the pregnancy, from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management, but not from accidental or incidental causes.”

In the U.S., according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, maternal mortality rose by 40 percent at the height of the Covid pandemic. In 2021, 33 women died out of every 100,000 live births in the US, up from 23.8 in 2020.  Black mothers were the most affected. The mortality rate among Black women was 2.6 times as much as the rate for white women in 2021, and 30% of maternal deaths were among Black women. Black people make up about 14% of the U.S. population, Census Bureau data show.

And then there is drug overdoses.  In 2020, Forbes announced that the Sackler family, owners of Purdue Pharma, a pharmaceutical company, were America’s “Richest Family” with a net worth of $10.8 billion.  The company’s main product was Oxycontin, an opioid.  In March 2022, the U.S. Dept. of Justice announced a $6 settlement with Purdue Pharma that notes, “the Sackler family to pay $4.325 billion over nine years to the states, municipalities, and plaintiffs that sued the company.”

More troubling, the settlement shields the family from further litigation, though not from any criminal charges — the Sacklers have never faced criminal charges — and have denied any wrongdoing.  However, in June 2022, Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said he’ll ask the state’s top prosecutor to consider criminal charges against members of the Sackler family.

America’s opioid crisis evolved over the last quarter century through three phases and, according to some estimates, there were nearly 500,000 opioid overdose deaths over two decades.  In themid-1990s, Purdue Pharma – with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval – introduced OxyContin as a legally prescribe opioid. The crisis deepened as the heroin market began to replace Oxy and, now, a third wave is characterized by the introduction of illegal synthetic opioids with fentanyl.  In 2021, more than 106,000 people died from drug-involved overdose, including illicit drugs and prescription opioids.

Every day, about 32 people in the U.S. die in drunk-driving crashes — that’s one person every 45 minutes. In 2020, 11,654 people died in alcohol-impaired driving traffic deaths — a 14% increase from 2019. These deaths were all preventable.

Sadly, Americans are dying and dying … and will continue dying.

David Rosen is the author of Sex, Sin & Subversion:  The Transformation of 1950s New York’s Forbidden into America’s New Normal (Skyhorse, 2015).  He can be reached at; check out