Is San Jose still the 10th largest U.S. city?
An aerial view of downtown San Jose is pictured in this file photo.

The heart of Silicon Valley might have lost its claim to fame as the 10th largest city in the nation.

During a Charter Review Commission meeting Monday night, San Jose State University retired political science professor Terry Christensen made a statement that raised eyebrows during his presentation: the city of Austin, Texas surpassed San Jose in population and became the 10th largest city in the U.S.

The statement quickly made rounds on Twitter after former Councilmember Lan Diep, who now serves on the commission, posted about it.

Christensen told San José Spotlight Tuesday that his statement is based on various projections, including one from World Population Review that uses 2018 estimated data. The news also started buzzing last June in Austin, according to news reports. The city released its own population projection in a newsletter.

“San Jose is drifting backwards, and if the current trend holds, even with reduced growth velocity on Austin’s part, we’ll become the 10th most populous city in the country sometime during 2021,” the newsletter reads.

So did San Jose really lose its place? The answer, according to the U. S. Census Bureau, could become clear in a month when the agency releases its 2020 census data on May 27.

Due to the pandemic and last-minute changes by the previous presidential administration, the first batch of 2020 census reports is delayed. The most current population data is dated 2019, when San Jose led Austin by roughly 40,000 people. So far, the Census Bureau only has its estimated population count for the whole country.

Still, data from previous years points to San Jose falling lower in the ranking.

San Jose made the top 10 most populous cities in 2005, pushing Detroit off the list. The city was on track to crack the 1 million population mark, but that number shrunk amid the recession, according to census data. In 2013, San Jose was the largest city in the fastest growing county in California, and began to see growth again, securing its top 10 spot.

But as the costs of housing and living continue to rise, San Jose’s population has steadily declined by tens of thousands of people every year since 2017, data shows. Annual city surveys also show a growing number of dissatisfied residents over the last few years.

Meanwhile, more than 1,700 miles south of Silicon Valley, the city of Austin found itself to be an up and coming tech hub and people magnet. According to census data, Austin’s population grew more than 22% in the last decade, compared to a growth of 7.3% in San Jose over the same period.

“I don’t imagine people are looking at (the ranking) to make their decisions,” Christensen said Tuesday. “It’s more of a point of pride.”

But the real significance of this potential change, Christensen added, speaks to the current quality of living in San Jose.

For example, the median income in Austin, at $71,576, isn’t as comparable as the median of $109,593 in Silicon Valley. But an Austin home costs around two and a half times less than one in San Jose, according to census data from 2010 to 2019. Renting in Austin is about half the price compared to here.

Austin is also larger in size with lower population density rates than San Jose.

In 2016, Texas Monthly dubbed Austin “the land of eternal boom.” Forbes Magazine named the city among the fastest growing urban centers in the nation, with record-breaking numbers in newcomers. Many of whom moved from California, Florida and the Northeast, according to the magazine.

Between 2000 and 2016, Austin’s employment rate also exploded by 52%, three times that of New York and more than four times that of San Francisco, according to a Forbes analysis.

“It’s more attractive there,” Christensen said. “Are we going to be the next Detroit? It’s a concern, but tech is not contracting (like auto did) … The concern is with our cost of living and cost of housing.”

Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.

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