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San Francisco lost a greater percentage of residents than any other large U.S. city

Pedestrians at Stockton and Jackson Streets in San Francisco, Calif on December 28, 2021. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

Nearly every large U.S. city lost residents during Covid, but nowhere was that trend felt more acutely than San Francisco.

The city lost 6.3% of its residents from July 2020 to July 2021, the biggest percentage decline among all 800-some cities with more than 50,000 residents, according to data released by the Census Bureau today. That represents a loss of 54,813 individuals.

While San Francisco came in first on the nationwide list, other Bay Area cities also saw big population declines. San Jose, San Mateo, Redwood City, San Leandro, Palo Alto, Union City and Alameda all lost about 3% of their residents in the same time period. Pleasonton, Sunnyvale, Berkeley, Livermore, Fremont and Milpitas recorded smaller losses during the same period, around 2%.

Nationwide, cities with the biggest population growth were in Arizona, Texas, Florida and Idaho. Georgetown, Texas, a booming suburb north of Austin, registered the largest percentage growth, increasing its population by 10.5%. Among cities with over 1 million residents, Phoenix, Arizona, grew the most, at .8%. In California, many inland cities experienced population growth— in particular Sacramento, Riverside, Merced, Modesto and Fresno.

Many of San Francisco’s residents are office workers who were able to work remotely during Covid, said Stanford economics professor Nick Bloom, who studies working from home. The population decline is bad for the city’s government due to lost tax revenue, but it may not be a bad thing for residents, he said.

“This will dramatically push back on the affordability crisis, and in many ways will take SF back 10 to 15 years, he said. “I’m not sure that’s terrible. If you ask people, there’s a lot of people that will say in 2019 it was too crowded and too expensive.”

San Francisco’s population decline squares with the results from the San Francisco Standard Voter Poll. In that recent survey, 44% of respondents said they planned to eventually leave the city, citing homelessness, the high cost of living and rising crime as the top reasons for looking elsewhere. Of that group, 16% of respondents reported they were likely to leave in the next two years and a further 28% said they were unlikely to stay in the city long-term. 

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