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It’s not just SF—the whole Bay Area saw a pandemic population drop

The Bay Area lost more than 217,000 people over the last three years, depressing the region’s population to levels not seen since 2014. | Aric Crabb/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images

The Bay Area lost more than 217,000 people over the last three years, depressing the region’s population to levels not seen since 2014, according to a report from real estate brokerage Compass, which analyzed newly released numbers from the California Department of Finance.

The roughly 2.1% reduction outstrips California’s 1.3% population drop between July 2019 and July 2022.

San Francisco led the way among the Bay Area’s 11 counties, with a 4.4% drop over that three-year period, accounting for the loss of 38,000 residents. The city was followed by San Mateo and Marin counties, which saw a 3.5% decrease. 

While San Francisco’s overall population has returned to levels not seen since 2012, other parts in the Bay Area have fared worse by that metric. Santa Cruz, Sonoma and Napa counties have seen their populations fall to 2010 levels, and the populations of Marin and San Mateo counties are down to 2011 numbers. 

On the other end of the spectrum was Contra Costa County, which saw a population decline of 1%, equivalent to 12,700 residents. Preliminary numbers show Contra Costa’s 2022 population numbers are likely at 2017 levels. 

“Major population and migration shifts in either direction can have large ramifications in the area’s economy, housing markets, public services, quality of life, and even its ecology,” said Patrick Carlisle, a market analyst with Compass. 

The tech boom kicked off a major population rise in the Bay Area with the region’s population rising more than 8% from 7.84 million in 2010, to its peak of 8.48 million in 2019. 

However, the dynamic reversed when the pandemic hit, kicking off a wide-scale transition to remote work and a move toward suburbanization. 

According to the Compass report, most people moving out-of-county in the Bay Area are moving to adjacent counties, which are often more affordable and less densely populated. 

On the other hand, the population moving to the Bay Area comes from pretty much everywhere. In particular, the region gets a significant influx of foreign migration, which has been a major force bolstering the population, even as domestic migration rates have turned negative in recent years. 

San Francisco specifically saw net domestic outmigration jump by nearly 450% from 2020 to 2021, but preliminary numbers for 2022 are more in line with historic norms. That year was also an outlier in net foreign migration, which went underwater in San Francisco for the first time.

Early figures for 2022 show a recovery on that front as well, with 3,419 new net foreign residents coming to the city. 

U.S. Census data cited by the Compass report found that Bay Area and California residents moving out of the state often choose states with no income tax like Texas, Nevada or Florida, states with strong tech sectors like Texas or Washington, or adjacent states like Arizona or Oregon. 

This trend line is especially pronounced amongst older home sellers. According to data from the California Association of Realtors, the percentage of home sellers moving out of the state jumped to 35% in 2021, however, for sellers over the age of 50 that jumps up to 43%. 

Kevin Truong can be reached at