San Jose shrinks in population and desirability
Former Navy SEAL and San Jose resident Mychael Boudreauh has lived in the city since 1972. He questioned a report that puts San Jose as one of the best places to live in the U.S. Photo by Annalise Freimarck.

    San Jose has dropped down to the 12th most populated city nationwide following an exodus of residents during the peak of the pandemic—but it continues to rank as one of the top 15 best places to live in the country. Residents said there’s a disconnect.

    The city’s population has dropped from 1,014,545 residents in April 2020 to 971,233 residents as of July 2022, more than 4%, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau data. A number of issues have caused this flight out of the city, such as the lack of affordable housing, the ability to work remote post-pandemic and the overall high cost of living in the region.

    Austin, Texas has overlapped San Jose as the county’s 10th largest city and Jacksonville, Florida moved into the 11th spot, pushing the city out of its longstanding position.

    Still, a recent U.S. News & World Report analysis ranks San Jose as the 13th best place to live in its annual 2023-24 U.S. cities report. This is a drop from last year’s analysis which ranked it fifth out of the 150 most populated cities. The ranking is determined by factors such as affordability, desirability, quality of life and job market. Austin placed 40th and Jacksonville placed 16th.

    Some locals don’t think San Jose should rank so high, and are considering finding a new place to call home.

    San Jose resident Mychael Boudreauh, a 55-year-old retired Navy SEAL, has lived in the city since 1972 and said he heard about the drop in population. Over the years he’s watched the city become more crowded and expensive, he said. He doesn’t consider it one of the best places to live and would move to Arizona if he could afford it.

    “I would say it was better maybe 10 years ago,” he told San José Spotlight. “Now, (there’s) a lot more people, a lot of traffic, a lot more crime. It’s just a lot more everything compared to how it used to be.”

    Due to the increase in cost of living, Boudreauh said he’s never been able to afford to buy a house, even with his G.I. assistance, and lives in a subsidized condo. Last July, San Jose residents experienced the highest rates of inflation in 41 years, according to the U.S. Labor Department.

    Sunnyvale resident John Kumison, a 40-year-old optical engineer, said he isn’t surprised by San Jose’s drop in population. He’s lived in Sunnyvale for three years and said he knows a lot of people leaving San Jose and the Bay Area.

    Sunnyvale resident John Kumison said he isn’t surprised San Jose residents are leaving. Photo by Annalise Freimarck.

    He said because of the cost of living and lack of things to do, he’s considering moving to Sacramento to be closer to family.

    “It’s maybe a good place if you’re trying to have a family and are also a millionaire, but otherwise, I don’t know why anybody would (live here),” he said.

    San Jose resident Janelle Johnson, 52, is unemployed. Johnson said she first came to the city from New Zealand because she fell in love with an American man. Now, all of her family has moved away to retire and because of inflation, but she would be sad to leave.

    San Jose resident Janelle Johnson has considered moving back to New Zealand because it’s so difficult to afford living in the city. Photo by Annalise Freimarck.

    Since she’s not in the tech industry where a majority of the region’s wealth sits, living here is hard, she said. Joint Venture Silicon Valley, a group that analyzes regional issues affecting the economy and quality of life, found that the top quarter of Silicon Valley’s earners harbor 92% of the wealth.

    “If you’re not in that, then it’s pretty tough,” Johnson told San José Spotlight.

    One of her favorite things about San Jose is the different people who call it home.

    “I really do love how culturally diverse it is,” she said. “Like it would be really weird to move somewhere where it’s just all like one flavor of people.”

    San Jose resident Carlos Chavez, 22, who works for a global home security company, has lived here his entire life. He said he gets paid enough to live on now, but before his current job, he had to sell shoes on top of his day job to make enough money.

    San Jose resident Carlos Chavez said he used to have to work multiple jobs to afford living in San Jose. Photo by Annalise Freimarck.

    Chavez has considered living somewhere outside of California due to rent increases and because he’s a car enthusiast and state is moving away from gas-powered machines.

    “The rent’s are rising. Inflation is crazy right now,” he told San José Spotlight. “Everything’s super expensive and unfortunately, one job isn’t enough to be able to live with here in the Bay Area, especially San Jose.”

    Contact Annalise Freimarck at [email protected] or follow @annalise_ellen on Twitter.

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