Only one US county saw a bigger share of people leave last year than San Francisco

Throughout the pandemic, we’ve heard stories of a mass exodus from big cities as many offices moved away and people sought more space and affordable housing.

But new data from the US Census gives us a more accurate estimate of the number of people who have left than ever before, and San Francisco and San Mateo County are near the top of the list with the largest population declines in the counties of 100,000 or more inhabitants.

From July 2020 to July 2021, San Francisco’s population decreased by approximately 6.3%, losing nearly 55,000 people over this period. San Mateo County was fourth, with a population down 3.2% and a loss of nearly 25,000 people.

Internal emigration, or the movement of people out of counties and elsewhere in the United States, has resulted in population loss in all of the fastest-shrinking counties. Internal emigration from San Francisco was more than 10 times higher from July 2020 to July 2021 than in the previous year, and nearly nine times higher in San Mateo County.

While many counties also saw an increase in deaths in 2021, likely in part due to the winter COVID surge that peaked in early January, those deaths were offset by a corresponding increase in births. All counties that experienced significant population declines still recorded more births than deaths in 2021, known as “positive natural change.

Jeff Bellisario, executive director of the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, told The Chronicle in an email that the census data confirms the trends the organization has been following during the pandemic.

“Remote work options combined with a high cost of living in the Bay Area have been major contributing factors to population declines in many parts of the region,” he wrote. . “San Francisco and San Mateo counties in particular have some of the highest percentages of remote work-eligible occupations in the nation and some of the highest housing costs in the nation.”

Ahmad Thomas, CEO of Silicon Valley Leadership Group, said his initial reaction was “there’s nothing new” about the findings.

Bay Area residents are moving to cheaper places in California and further out of the Bay Area,” he said. “The cost-benefit dynamics for employers and state employees are quite serious.”

He said that from a higher perspective, the cost of housing and the cost of living here in the Bay Area “continues to be a significant challenge”, and the focus is now on the improving the “California value proposition” so businesses can locate, invest and grow here in the Bay Area. He said this requires “continued policy innovation” and “continued solutions around affordable housing for us to maintain a competitive advantage”.

“This is an important area of ​​focus for our leaders, certainly Silicon Valley business leaders,” he added.

San Francisco saw the second largest population decline after New York County (Manhattan), which saw a 6.6% drop from July 2020 to July 2021. Los Angeles County didn’t quite managed to break into the top 20, with its population declining by 1.6%.

San Francisco rents have rebounded after plummeting at the start of the pandemic, and more businesses are asking employees to return to the office. Bellisario said he was interested to see how this will affect population growth.

“Affordability and quality of life issues remain huge challenges for San Francisco on the path to a full population recovery,” he said. “The jobs numbers also show that San Francisco’s job recovery is moving more slowly than the rest of the country, which doesn’t bode well for future population growth.”

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