For years now, reports have been circulating of people fleeing the Bay Area in favor of cities with comparable job opportunities and a lower cost of living. It makes perfect sense – cities like Austin, Portland, Seattle and Denver offer lifestyles similar to the SF Bay Area but at a discounted price, the perfect draw for young families struggling to establish themselves in this relentlessly competitive housing market. But is this information being used to create an accurate narrative? Does an emigration of a small fraction of the Bay Area’s workforce point to the end of Silicon Valley’s reign as the country’s preeminent tech hub? Or worse yet, is this the beginning of a mass exodus that will bring about our next market crash? Not so fast…
It seems that whenever I run into an article discussing people leaving the Bay Area, its headline is peppered with words that exist solely to stoke fear in those who read them. A classic tactic in the clickbait era of online news. Take for instance this article published by the Business Insider, titled, “The San Francisco Housing Market is so Dire that People are Leaving in Droves”. Based off the headline, you would expect there to be some significant numbers to back up the claim. Instead, they csite a report released by an organization called the Bay Area Council, which found that 46% of their survey respondents plan to move away soon. This is an interesting discovery, if not incredibly vague, but who did they ask? Turns out, this study (which has been csited by fairly reputable outlets like the Mercury News and the San Francisco Business Times) was based off a poll of just 1,000 registered voters in the nine-county Bay Area. That is roughly 0.014% percent of the 7 million people who live here. Hardly a statistically significant sample size.
But the Business Insider isn’t the only source making the “leaving in droves” argument. Many have. The most compelling evidence I have seen to back this argument up is that people leaving the Bay Area for other states last year outnumber those who moved here by the 10’s of thousands (I have seen it as high as 46,000 in one report). But this is just a measure of domestic migration, or people moving within the United States. What these articles always omit, is that net immigration – people coming and leaving from other countries – has remained positive. In fact, according to census estimates, about 58,000 more people moved to the Bay Area from abroad than left last year, which significantly outweighs the reported deficit in domestic migration. Further, the people moving here from other countries tend to be highly educated, work skilled jobs, and earn above the area’s median salary.
In a sense, what’s actually happening here in the Bay Area is quite the opposite of what many reports are suggesting. While some current residents are in fact leaving for other states, our total population is still increasing. And the people who are moving here are taking skilled jobs that further cement our status as the world leader in tech innovation. Jobs that pay enough for them to jump right into the frenzy that is our housing market, further driving up competition. So while it makes for some excellent clickbait material, there is no mass exodus taking place in the Bay Area. Not yet anyway.