San Jose sees sharpest population decline in 10 years
An aerial view of Cityview Plaza in downtown San Jose. File photo.

The nation’s 10th largest city lost residents at its highest rate last year and is among the slowest-growing South Bay cities in the past decade, according to population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.

San Jose, the most populous city in Santa Clara County with 1.01 million residents, lost almost 13,000 people between 2019 and 2020. That’s roughly 1.26% of the city’s population. The city has seen a steady decline in residents for several years, losing around 2,200 people in 2018 and 8,300 in 2019, according to census data.

While San Jose kept its spot as the nation’s 10th largest city in 2020, it could be overtaken by Austin in 2021 if the population continues to decline. Census data shows that Austin was among the fastest-growing cities in the country last year.

Other Silicon Valley cities experienced population declines in 2020, including Campbell, Cupertino, Gilroy, Los Gatos, Mountain View and Sunnyvale.

Only three South Bay cities saw an increase in population last year, with Santa Clara topping the chart at 3.5% growth, or 4,488 residents. Milpitas and Morgan Hill had slight increases of 37 people and 26 people, respectively.

Populations in other big Bay Area cities also declined last year, as San Francisco lost 12,200 people and Fremont lost 768 people, according to census estimates. Oakland added around 2,100 people, a 0.5% population growth, in comparison.

San Jose is among the slowest-growing cities in the South Bay over the last decade, with a growth rate of 6.19%. That translates to an increase of more than 59,000 people in 10 years, according to San José Spotlight's analysis.

Some of San Jose's neighboring cities are growing at a faster rate, with Morgan Hill seeing a 19.42% increase in population over the last decade. Milpitas grew by 13.75%, and Santa Clara grew by 12.15%. Gilroy's population also increased by 11.58% in that time frame, the data shows.

Populations in these cities have steadily climbed since the beginning of the decade. They continued to gain when San Jose started to see a decline in its population over the last three years.

At the bottom of the list are Campbell and Los Gatos, with population growth rates at 4.32% and 1.6%, respectively. Cupertino, in last place, shrunk by 0.13% over the last decade.

Other big Bay Area cities outpaced the heart of Silicon Valley in population growth this past decade, census data shows. San Francisco added 61,000 people, a 7.58% growth, and Oakland grew by 8.57%, or 33,500 people. Fremont grew by 20,000 people, a 9.35% increase, over 10 years.

Census data shows the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara Metropolitan Statistical Area also had a record-breaking net domestic migration loss last year, losing more than 30,000 migrants—defined as people leaving one location for another. That's a bigger decline from losing almost 28,000 net domestic migrants in 2019 and 24,000 in 2018.

The area's net international migration also hit an all-time low last year, with only about 7,000 migrants.

Located in what was the fastest growing California county in 2013, San Jose and its metro area were a job hub for many workers. But rising costs of housing and living, coupled with the tumultuous economy during the pandemic, drove the area's population to decline.

Annual city surveys also show a growing number of dissatisfied residents over the last few years.

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

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