What they did not expect to see was a rise in the death rate in 2015.
Neil Howe of Hedgeye.com (and co-author of "The Fourth Turning") wrote about this data that has sent shockwaves among demographers and economists.
Preliminary data from the CDC’s National Vital Statistics System (NVSS) show that the U.S. age-adjusted mortality rate climbed from 723.2 deaths per 100,000 people in 2014 to 729.5 last year—truly a head-scratcher for a society in which continuous advances in medicine and public health slash the rate nearly every year.
This is what Andrew Fenelon of the National Center for Health Statistics said to The New York Times about the increase in the mortality rate.
"We are not accustomed to seeing death rates increase on a national scale. We've seen increases in mortality for some groups, but it is quite rare to see it for the whole population."
So what is going on?
From looking at recent headlines you might think that the death rate has increased due to homicides that are the result of deaths by assault rifles.
However, let's look at the facts.
How many homicide deaths do you think were caused by rifles in the United States in 2014 (the most recent year available)?
You read that right. That is 248 rifle murders in a country of 319,000,000 people.
In fact, murders by rifles have decreased every year since 2010 despite the fact that we keep hearing about an "epidemic of violence" with firearms and 'assault' rifles in this country.
Most people would also be surprised to learn that the majority of deaths by guns (almost all are with handguns) are the result of suicide rather by homicide.
Gun homicides have also generally been trending lower over the last decade (during most of the Obama years). It is only gun suicides that have been trending higher while Obama has been President.
Therefore, guns are apparently not the reason that the overall death rate in the U.S. has increased.
What is the cause?
The experts indicate that they do not know for sure at this point but the numbers seem to be pointing to a big increase in drug overdoses as one of the principal reasons for the spike in the overall death rate.
According to NVSS, the death rate for drug overdoses was 15.2 per 100,000 people in Q2 2015, up from 14.1 during the same period a year earlier.
Given the much-discussed recent surge in American opioid use, we can be sure that opioids (both prescription painkillers and their illegal substitute, heroin) play a significant role in 2015’s overall death rate hike.
A recent report from the National Safety Council shows that, over the decade ending in 2014, deaths from drug overdoses shot up 78 percent—overtaking car crashes as the number one source of accidental deaths in the United States. According to Dartmouth economist Jonathan Skinner, the graph of drug overdose deaths over time now looks like that of an infectious disease that spreads exponentially, “diffusing out and catching more and more people.”
You begin to see how big the problem has become when you look at this heat map that shows how prevalent drug overdose deaths are becoming across the nation.
What is particularly troubling is that these deaths are not coming from young adults as you might expect. They are distributed across all age groups with those between ages 45-54 having the highest rate of overdose deaths.
Consider as well that those age 55-64 have seen a 343% increase in overdose deaths since 2000!
However, the biggest epidemic we have in this country right now is not gun violence but the epidemic of drugs.
If you think not, consider these numbers.
248 homicide deaths by rifles annually.
47,000 deaths by drug overdoses per year.
There were 190 times as many drug deaths as deaths by rifles.
There were 4 times as many drug deaths as all gun homicides.
There were more than 2 times as many drug deaths as all suicides committed with guns.
Which is the bigger problem? Guns or drugs?
The irony is that many of our elected representatives and others are trying to make more guns illegal while they are also trying to make more drugs legal.
How often have you ever heard any of this on the evening news, Instagram, Facebook or from a Democrat (sitting) on the House floor.