The Bay Area is the country’s work-from-home capital and San Francisco sits on its throne, data released Wednesday from the U.S. Census Bureau shows. While it’s no secret that many San Franciscans switched to remote work during the pandemic, this data provides a new source of detailed and comprehensive insight into the time period when Americans’ understanding of the workplace fundamentally changed.
Across the U.S., the number of people working from home exploded between 2019 and 2021, marking the highest number ever recorded by the bureau’s annual American Community Survey (ACS). The San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley and San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara metro areas clocked the largest share of home-based workers among regions with a million or more residents, the bureau wrote in a statement.
With an estimated over 200,000 people working from home in 2021, San Francisco led the Bay Area, earning its crown among the nation’s remote work royalty.
Approximately 46% of SF’s residents worked remotely last year. That was a massive spike from just 7% of the city’s workforce who worked at home in 2019, according to the ACS data.
Only Washington D.C. and Seattle saw a higher portion of residents working from home, among cities with over 200,000 workers.
Many of SF’s smaller neighbors also had large shares of residents who worked from home: Berkeley, Palo Alto, Fremont, Dublin and Mountain View all registered percentages between 46% and 51%. But San Francisco had by far the highest work-from-home rate among California’s largest cities.
White San Franciscans were the most likely to work from home in 2021, with about 56% of them doing so, compared with 39% and 37% of Black people and Asian people respectively. About 31% of Hispanic or Latino people worked from home, according to the ACS data.
San Franciscans who worked from home in 2021 had higher incomes than people who physically commuted to their job. Remote workers earned a median of about $120,000 in the 12 months before they filled out the survey. Commuters, on the other hand, had a much lower median salary. For example, only about 11% of San Franciscans took public transit to their job and that slice of the population earned about a third of their work from home neighbors.
Importantly, the ACS data only speaks to what happened during the 2021 calendar year. Since then, more San Franciscans have left their living rooms to work in person once again, but not nearly at pre-pandemic rates, early indicators show.
For example, in 2021, San Francisco office attendance registered an average of just 18% of its pre-pandemic level. So far this year, that figure has climbed to 31%, but still falls far short of earlier rates, according to data from Kastle Systems, which manages office building entrance technology.
BART ridership has climbed upwards since 2021, but figures remain stubbornly below 40% of pre-pandemic levels, the transit system’s most recent report shows.
Many experts remain concerned that the concentration of remote-friendly industries in the city will continue to stymie the sluggish repopulation of San Francisco’s downtown.
And while the city has clearly established itself as a national hot spot for working from home, plenty of workers are still commuting. The ACS data shows that even during 2021, a slim majority of San Franciscans continued to physically travel to their jobs. So while many of our neighbors are still typing away in their living rooms, it’s not time to write off SF’s daily commute just yet. After all, many across the city work in industries that will never go remote.