Apr 12, 2023 - News

San Francisco's population hit hard amid pandemic, Census data shows

Change in California population, 2020 to 2022
Data: U.S. Census; Map: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

San Francisco's city and county population shrank just over 7% from July 2020 to July 2022, according to new U.S. Census Bureau data.

Why it matters: The past few years have been especially turbulent for population trends, with the COVID-19 pandemic affecting birth and death rates, interstate and international migration, and more.

  • Meanwhile, San Francisco's economy has struggled to recover from the financial impacts of the pandemic.

By the numbers: San Francisco County, which comprises only the city of San Francisco, had a population of 808,437 in July 2022, down from 870,393 in July 2020.

  • San Francisco had the steepest population decline among Bay Area counties, followed by San Mateo County with a 4.4% population loss from 2020 to 2022.
  • Statewide, California's population declined 1.2% from July 2020 to July 2022, to just over 39 million.

Of note: San Francisco's population decline slowed from July 2021 to July 2022, compared with 2020 through 2021.

  • The city's population dropped 6.8% from 2020 to 2021, but just 0.3% from 2021 to 2022.

Between the lines: In San Francisco, the population decline was likely at least partially fueled by tech workers newly unshackled from their offices in the remote work era, combined with high housing costs in the area.

  • Manhattan, however, grew a bit, as Axios' Emily Peck reports, complicating the sweeping "big cities are dying" narrative of the late pandemic era.

Zoom out: Idaho, Montana and Florida had the highest population growth of U.S. states from 2020 to 2022, while New York, Illinois and Louisiana sustained the most shrinkage.

  • Idaho's population grew nearly 4.9%, while that of Montana and Florida grew 3.3% and 3%, respectively.
  • New York, meanwhile, shrank about 2%, while Illinois and Louisiana lost 1.6% and 1.3% of their populations, respectively.

The intrigue: Some of the fastest-growing areas — Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico — are also some of the most vulnerable to the ongoing effects of climate change, like drought and a dwindling water supply.

What to watch: whether the city implements a plan to build 82,000 housing units over the next eight years, more than half of which must be considered affordable. And if San Francisco does succeed, whether population levels will be affected.

  • Plus, whether the exodus will continue to slow and whether the rebound in immigration sustains in the Bay Area.

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