Moving

Is the San Francisco exodus over? Right here’s what inhabitants information reveals

People gather to see the main stage at the Night Market in the Sunset District of San Francisco on Sept. 15. New data suggests the city’s population has grown over the past few years.

Felix Uribe/Special to the Chronicle

The city’s population began growing again in 2021 after plunging at the onset of the pandemic, a year earlier than previously thought, according to California Department of Finance data released Tuesday.

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The city gained about 1,400 people between July 2021 and July 2022, according to a revised estimate. A previous Department of Finance report estimated a loss of around 4,400 people during that period. The revisions incorporate migration data from the Internal Revenue Service and 2020 census data.

Gains were stronger in the following 12 months: The city grew by about 4,900 people to a total of a little over 848,000 residents, a positive sign that it remains appealing in the age of remote work and despite persistently high housing costs. San Francisco’s 0.6% gain was the fourth-highest percentage increase among California counties, behind the three rural counties of Yuba, Madera and Mono.

The city’s return to growth could boost its economy as it grapples with a budget crisis and stave off fears of a “doom loop.” Population swings have been driven mostly by people moving out or in, rather than births and deaths. By voting with their feet, many departing residents told the Chronicle that the city was no longer worth it.

They flocked to destinations such as Texas and Washington state during the pandemic. But the more recent gains show that San Francisco is drawing in more people than it is losing, though it remains roughly 22,000 people smaller than it was in mid-2020.

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Between July 2022 and July 2023, the city saw a net gain of 4,682 people through domestic and international migration, the highest growth among California counties from those two sources. Notably, net domestic migration accounted for a gain of 1,070 people, up from a loss of nearly 3,000 people in the prior 12 months.

Between July 2020 and July 2021, San Francisco lost a staggering 29,013 people, or 3.3%, almost all due to net out-migration amid stringent health restrictions. (The U.S. Census Bureau, which uses a different methodology, said the population loss was 6.3% during that time, the biggest percentage drop of any major American city.)

Three of the Bay Area’s most populous counties also saw gains. Santa Clara County grew by about 8,500 people, or 0.5%, between July 2022 and July 2023. San Mateo County grew by 2,800 people, or 0.4%, and Alameda County increased by a little over 6,000 people, or 0.4%. The other five Bay Area counties lost population, with Napa County seeing the biggest percentage decline of 0.8%, or about 1,000 people.

The population of Los Angeles County, home to over 9.8 million people, or a quarter of the state’s residents, fell by about 15,000 people, or 0.15%.

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California’s total population fell by only 0.1%, a loss of 37,200 people, in the same period, thanks to fewer deaths and an immigration rebound compared with the prior year. The loss was far narrower than the 0.75% drop between July 2020 and July 2021, a net loss of 295,000 people.

The state lost a net 260,400 people to domestic out-migration. The Department of Finance noted that net domestic migration has been negative for almost 20 years, leaving the state dependent on births and international immigration to make up the loss.

The state gained 107,300 people from natural increase — births minus deaths — plus a net 115,900 people from international migration.

San Francisco population loss was a common subject during the early part of the pandemic. But new data suggests people were moving into the city sooner than previously thought.

San Francisco population loss was a common subject during the early part of the pandemic. But new data suggests people were moving into the city sooner than previously thought.

Stephen Lam/The Chronicle

Only 16 of California’s 58 counties grew, with four Bay Area counties seeing some of the biggest gains.

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Separately, the U.S. Census Bureau said on Tuesday that California lost over 75,000 people between July 2022 and 2023, using different methodology. In contrast, 42 of 50 states gained population. County-level census data will be released in March.

The U.S. population grew by 1.6 million, or 0.5%, as the country recovered from the pandemic during that time. A striking 87% of the country’s population growth happened in the south.

The Department of Finance previously told the Chronicle that the Census Bureau’s 2022 estimates, which showed a lower San Francisco population, were likely more accurate than its own. But this year, the department’s figures are probably stronger, said Department of Finance chief demographer Walter Schwarm, since they account better for in-migration.

State data comes from driver’s licenses, birth and death certificates, address changes, tax returns, health care programs, elementary school enrollment, immigration reports and group quarters population data.

Reach Roland Li: roland.li@sfchronicle.com; Twitter: @rolandlisf, Reach Christian Leonard: christian.leonard@sfchronicle.com

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