Stand up for facts and support PolitiFact.
Now is your chance to go on the record as supporting trusted, factual information by joining PolitiFact’s Truth Squad. Contributions or gifts to PolitiFact, which is part of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Poynter Institute, are tax deductible.
I would like to contribute
Every U.S. citizen over 18 years old would get $1,000 per month under the proposal from the 44-year-old New York Democrat, an entrepreneur and former tech executive who is making his first run for public office.
Universal basic income is needed, Yang said on The Hill’s "Rising" TV show, because "we’re going through the greatest economic and technological transformation in our nation’s history."
He also made a claim about life expectancy that he has used repeatedly:
"The indicators already show that we’re falling apart. America’s life expectancy has declined for the last three years in a row, the first time in a hundred years, because of surges in suicides and drug overdoses."
Yang’s campaign did not respond to our requests for information to back up his statement. But the campaign has previously cited a Politico news article on reports released in November 2018 by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those reports were on life expectancy as of 2017.
We’ll take Yang’s statement in three parts:
1. Yang was a bit off in saying life expectancy has declined for three straight years, in that there was no change from 2015 to 2016, according to CDC figures that were revised slightly after their initial release:
2014: 78.9 years
2015: 78.7 years
2016: 78.7 years
2017: 78.6 years
2. That was the first time such a three-year stretch had occurred since the flu pandemic a century ago, the CDC said. So, he’s right about it being "100 years" since something similar happened.
3. A CDC report cited three causes of death that have contributed to the decline in life expectancy: drug overdoses and suicides, as Yang said, but also chronic liver disease. (The CDC said chronic liver disease may be caused by both biological and behavioral factors, including hepatitis C or hepatitis B infection and excessive alcohol consumption.)
So, overdoses and suicides were major causes of the decline in life expectancy.
Shannon Monnat, a sociology professor and co-director of the Policy, Place, and Population Health Lab at Syracuse University, went so far as to say the recent decline "is due almost entirely" to increases in overdoses and suicides. She told us: "Although the declines are small, they are unprecedented, and they are signals that there is a serious well-being crisis in the U.S."
University of Maryland professor Andrew Fenelon, a sociologist and demographer whose research specialties include health disparities and population health, told us that Yang goes too far in citing only overdoses and suicides as the reasons for the decline.
"Identifying a ‘cause’ of a very small decline in life expectancy is hard, because many causes of death for which there were increases in mortality could, in essence, be said to be the reason for the decline," Fenelon said.
Still, it’s clear, as news media reports on the CDC figures reflected at the time, that overdoses and suicides were major drivers of the decline.
As for the significance of the decline, Fenelon agreed with Monnat, calling the three-year decline "extraordinary."
"We are simply not used to seeing, on a national scale, declines in life expectancy, especially not ones lasting more than one year. It is a major crisis," he said. "And not only are we failing to improve life expectancy in an absolute sense, as we have done for the past hundred years, but we're also falling farther behind the rest of the high-income world."
Yang stated: "America’s life expectancy has declined for the last three years in a row, the first time in a hundred years, because of surges in suicides and drug overdoses."
Yang’s claim is based on the most recent figures from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the three years since 2014 for which data are available, life expectancy dropped in 2015, stayed the same in 2016 and dropped in 2017. That pattern has not been seen in 100 years.
The CDC says suicides and drug overdoses, which showed major growth, as two of the three main factors in the decline.
We rate Yang’s statement Mostly True.'
The Hill, "Rising" TV show (2:45), March 22, 2019
Politico, "Drug overdoses and suicides fuel drop in U.S. life expectancy," Nov. 29, 2018
Washington Post, "U.S. life expectancy declines again, a dismal trend not seen since World War I," Nov. 29, 2018
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Suicide Mortality in the United States, 1999 to 2017," November 2018
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Drug Overdose Deaths in the United States, 1999–2017," November 2018
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Mortality in the United States, 2017," November 2018
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Mortality in the United States, 2015," December 2016
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Health, United States, 2017"
U.S. News & World Report, "U.S. Life Expectancy Falls as Drug Overdoses, Suicides Rise," Nov. 29, 2018
The Atlantic, "Americans Are Dying Even Younger — Drug overdoses and suicides are causing American life expectancy to drop," Nov. 29, 2018
Smithsonian Magazine, "U.S. Life Expectancy Drops for Third Year in a Row, Reflecting Rising Drug Overdoses, Suicides," Dec. 3, 2018
Email, University of Maryland assistant professor of health services administration Andrew Fenelon, a sociologist and demographer whose research specialties include health disparities and population health, April 1, 2019
Email, Syracuse University associate professor of sociology and co-director of the Policy, Place, and Population Health Lab Shannon Monnat, April 2, 2019
Email, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokesman Brian Tsai, April 2, 2019
Read About Our Process
In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.