Executive Director of Stand Together Foundation
Prior to joining Stand Together Foundation, Evan served as president of Generation Opportunity and as a program manager at the Charles Koch Institute. In 2012, Evan became one of the first millennials to run for the U.S. Congress in his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Earlier in his career, Evan served as a senior aide to U.S. Senators Rand Paul and Tom Coburn and as a researcher at the Heritage Foundation.
Why aren’t Americans living as long as they used to? That’s the big question after the life expectancy fell again in 2021. In 2019, a child born in the U.S. could expect to live to 78.5. Now, life expectancy is more than two years lower, at 76.4 years. Despite incredible advances in medicine, America is back to where we were in 1996. We’ve given up 25 years of progress—a shocking fact that many nonprofits are trying to change.
The typical explanation for this crisis focuses on two things. First, 2021 saw many deaths from Covid-19. But the pandemic doesn’t begin to explain the decline. What does is the huge increase in deaths from drugs and alcohol. Overdoses alone were up 14% in 2021. At the same time, mental health issues soared, which helps explain why suicides skyrocketed, too. These “deaths of despair” are driving down life expectancy, and unlike Covid, there’s no vaccine to help prevent them. In other words, the life expectancy crisis may be set to get even worse.
Yet saying that more Americans are dying from drug addiction, alcoholism and suicide isn’t the whole story. These things are often the effect of something else—something much deeper.
I believe the real crisis behind the life expectancy issue is one of meaning and purpose. Simply put, millions of Americans face barriers that block them from achieving their potential. They typically haven’t discovered their unique gifts and purpose in life, making it harder to contribute to the world around them. By the same token, they often feel isolated and alone, which can exacerbate mental health challenges that hold back many people.
If nonprofits—specifically, those focused on helping people who are struggling with substance abuse and addiction—want to reverse the decline in life expectancy, they need to focus their efforts on empowering people to break these barriers. I believe there are three things nonprofits can do to help people with addiction find the meaning and purpose that can improve and even lengthen their lives…