Moving

San Francisco inhabitants rises for first time since post-pandemic exodus—however California numbers are nonetheless dwindling

Golden Gate Bridge at sunset in San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge at sunset in San Francisco Li Rui/Xinhua via Getty Images

San Francisco is seeing a trickle of people return to the city after losing tens of thousands of residents since 2020, according to a new estimate released by the state of California. 

The city’s population grew by 4,925 people to 848,019 residents during the 12 months ended on June 30, according to a report released Tuesday by the state Department of Finance. Nearby regions including Silicon Valley also saw boosts in their population, driven by the arrival of international and domestic migrants. 

The population gain is welcome news for a city that has seen an exodus of residents and retail businesses in recent years, plunging San Francisco into a worsening budget crisis. The population loss was driven by high housing costs and the rise of remote work, giving tech workers the ability to flee an urban center hit hard during the pandemic while still collecting Silicon Valley salaries.

H.D. Palmer, a spokesperson for the Department of Finance, called the news a “crushing blow” to critics of San Francisco who saw the city entering a so-called doom loop of fleeing residents and sinking tax revenue.

International migration had been hampered in recent years by restrictive federal immigration policy, but officials have begun approving the backlog of H-1B visas that piled up during the pandemic, opening the door for skilled foreign workers to move to the Bay Area, according to Palmer.

While population gains in the San Francisco Bay Area offered a bright spot in the Golden State, California’s overall population declined again in 2023 by 37,203 residents, marking the fourth consecutive year of losses. The state has seen a net drop of more than 430,000 people since 2020, leading to the loss of a congressional seat in 2021. 

Several factors exacerbated by the pandemic are contributing to the state’s population decline, including a higher-than-normal death rate, a falling birth rate, a drop in international migration and more Californians moving to other states.

Still, the state’s population’s rate of decline slowed during the lastest fiscal year. And despite four years of drops, California remains the nation’s most populous state, with roughly 1 in 8 US residents calling it home. 

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