All signs point to new and returning people moving in to San Francisco over the last nine months, but during the first year of the pandemic, as the U.S. Census Bureau now confirms, around 55,000 people left San Francisco County.

San Francisco was second only to New York City in terms of the percentage of its population that appears to have fled for other, perhaps less urban locales in 2020/2021. According to new data from the Census Bureau reported today by the Chronicle, which focused on the "natural decrease" that occurred in county populations nationwide that was likely driven by COVID deaths, New York County, New York lost 13,000 people to death, but saw 16,000 births during the July 2020 to July 2021 period — however out-migration far exceeded in-migration of people to the city, with a net loss of 114,000 people, or 6.6% of its total population. San Francisco saw out-migration of 6.3% during that same time — and the city also saw more births than deaths, with 8,000 births recorded compared to 7,000 deaths. (And we know that SF had a very low mortality rate from COVID compared to the rest of the country, with only around 600 pandemic deaths as of last summer.)

San Mateo County also saw a nationally significant decline in population, with a loss of 3.5% of its population between July 2020 and July 2021 — the 5th biggest drop in the country, and coincidentally the same percentage decline seen in Kings County, New York, the home of Brooklyn.

The largest total net decline in population during the pandemic year was in Los Angeles County, which lost nearly 160,000 people, but as a percentage of the population this was still very small and not even in the top 20 for percent decline.

Chart via U.S. Census Bureau

Jeff Bellisario, executive director of the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, explains to the Chronicle that San Francisco and San Mateo Counties "have some of the highest percentages of remote work eligible occupations in the country and some of the highest housing costs in the nation." So it stands to reason that when remote work became the norm during the pandemic, lots of workers took the opportunity to find cheaper rents further afield. And earlier looks at out-migration data, some based on U.S. Postal Service change-of-address data, showed that many San Francisco and Bay Area residents stayed in-state, simply moving toward Sacramento or other areas with lower home prices and lower rents.

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Also, based on Postal Service data, the migration trend for SF looks to have shifted as of July 2021, with net out-migration slowing down significantly. And lately we're seeing more stories about moves ticking up into SF, particularly by Gen Z-ers just out of college, getting ready to start their careers.

A new study by the Brookings Institution has found that not very many tech jobs have left Silicon Valley in the last two years, despite media reports to the contrary. While there may be a lot more hybrid and remote roles these days, San Francisco and San Jose’s share of the country’s total tech startups dipped just 0.8% and 0.7% respectively. And both SF and Silicon Valley saw a net gain of tech jobs of 0.3% — lower than the previous five years, but a gain nonetheless.

Meanwhile, the new census data shows which parts of the country had declining populations based on "natural decrease" between 2020 and 2021, i.e. they saw far more deaths than births. That included all counties in Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island, however many of these counties still saw net increases do to people moving into them from elsewhere in the country.

"The patterns we’ve observed in domestic migration shifted in 2021,” said Dr. Christine Hartley, assistant division chief for estimates and projections in the Census Bureau’s Population Division, in a statement. “Even though over time we’ve seen a higher number of counties with natural decrease and net international migration continuing to decline, in the past year, the contribution of domestic migration counteracted these trends so there were actually more counties growing than losing population.”  

Those trends showed more moves during the pandemic from large, populous counties to small- and medium-sized counties, in general.

The full national trend map can be seen below.

Map via U.S. Census Bureau