Census data reveals an unexpected new trend in San Francisco's so-called "exodus" — a widening educational divide.

One of the biggest demographic shifts in the city since the pandemic began has been the mass departure of residents 25+ who haven't attended college, per the Chronicle. Even as the city's population has dropped overall, this sub-demographic is leaving at significantly higher rates.

In the city, since the beginning of the pandemic, the total number of people aged 25 or older with a high school degree or less dropped by 14%, according to the data. Specifically, it plunged from approximately 165,000 in 2019, to around 144,000 in 2021, then further to 142,000 in 2022 (note that census data wasn’t available in 2020 because of the pandemic).

Source: US Census

While SF’s population dropped overall in the same time frame — from 2019, the total population was around 875,000, and in 2022, it was only 834,000, representing about a 5% decrease — the non-college-educated proportion dropped far more than the rest of the population.

In pre-pandemic times, SF was reportedly seeing an increase in its non-college-educated population — as the Chronicle wrote, between 2018 and 2019, it rose by 5,500 people (or 3.5%) — so this represents a significant shift in San Francisco's population dynamics.

In fact, the change serves as a counterpoint to the narrative that those moving away SF in the exodus were solely overeducated remote tech workers.

The Chronicle attributes the decline of the subpopulation to the pandemic-related shutdowns and the rising cost of living, which prompted both remote white-collar workers and service workers to leave the city for greener, cheaper pastures. Service workers especially have been feeling the squeeze since before COVID, with their numbers declining 32% since 2019 (compared to a 7% nationwide decline over the same time), as the Chronicle reported.

San Francisco’s post-pandemic recovery has obviously been slow, in fact, among the slowest of urban areas in the country, as we’ve previously reported. As of August 13, 2023, total spending by SF consumers is down by 3.9%, compared to January 2020, according to Track the Recovery.

Image via Unsplash/Bia Frenkel.