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New city takes San Francisco’s crown as nation’s fastest shrinker

Crowds gather in San Francisco near the intersection of Castro and Market streets. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

San Francisco has officially relinquished its crown as the fastest-shrinking city in the nation. That dubious distinction now belongs to Jackson, Mississippi, according to population estimates released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The new data provides the first nationwide look at how populations changed in nearly 20,000 cities, towns, villages and boroughs across the country from July 2021 to July 2022. It’s a far more detailed snapshot than the county-level data released earlier this spring

The first year of the pandemic spurred exoduses from many of the largest and best-known American locales. San Francisco, New York, Washington, D.C., and Boston were all among the 15 fastest-shrinking U.S. cities from July 2020 to July 2021, according to census estimates. That year, almost half of the fastest-declining U.S. cities had populations of more than 100,000.

That’s no longer the case. San Francisco, New York and Boston saw far more modest population contractions from July 2021 to July 2022 and Washington, D.C., actually experienced moderate growth. Meanwhile, the majority of the 15 fastest-shrinking cities had populations below six figures.

The Bay Area did continue to see major population fluctuations. Livermore, Union City and San Leandro were all among the nation’s fastest-shrinking cities last year, the data shows.

Population growth did return to some parts of Northern California. Santa Cruz, home to one of the University of California campuses that resumed in-person instruction last year, added nearly 7,000 residents from July 2021 to July 2022, the data shows. That 12.5% increase made it the second-fastest growing city with at least 50,000 residents in the nation. 

Santa Cruz’s growth was surpassed by Georgetown, Texas, where the population swelled by a staggering 14.4%. The Lone Star State was home to five of the 15 fastest-growing American cities, with Florida accounting for another three, illustrating the population growth of many Southern cities during this time period.

Despite precipitous population declines in recent years, New York City remained the nation’s largest with more than 8.3 million residents in July 2022. The city of Los Angeles was second, at 3.8 million, followed by Chicago and Houston, with 2.7 million and 2.3 million, respectively.

With just shy of 1 million residents, San Jose is the Bay Area’s largest city, ranking No. 12 in the U.S. San Francisco has the 17th largest population of any American city, followed by Seattle, Denver and Oklahoma City to round out the top 20. 

While the most recent Census Bureau figures are for July 2022, the California Department of Finance released statewide population estimates for Jan. 1, 2023. The finance department totals showed that population loss continued across many Bay Area cities throughout the entire 2022 calendar year.

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Noah Baustin can be reached at