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S.F. area’s exodus of rich people led to biggest drop in household income of any U.S. city

San Francisco Chronicle 10/7/2022 By Roland Li and Susie Neilson
San Francisco’s Market Street sits empty of pedestrians in June. © Jessica Christian / The Chronicle

San Francisco’s Market Street sits empty of pedestrians in June.

The San Francisco metro area saw the biggest drop in median household income between 2019 and 2021 among the nation’s most populated regions, as many wealthy residents left during the pandemic.

Median annual income fell 4.6% to $116,005 per year, a drop of $5,546 per year, according to new census data. The San Francisco metro area, which includes Berkeley and Oakland, still had the country’s highest median income among the 25 most populated areas, but the data is fresh evidence of a sustained loss of high-income earners. (The San Jose metro area wasn’t included in the new data but has historically had a higher income level than the San Francisco metro area.)

Tens of thousands of residents who collectively made billions of dollars left San Francisco during the first year of the pandemic, according to tax filings. And San Francisco had the nation’s biggest percentage population drop, 6.3%, between July 2020 and July 2021.

Remote work unshackled many office workers from having to commute into downtown San Francisco or Oakland, freeing them to live anywhere. Bay Area residents who moved out of state previously told The Chronicle that the cheaper cost of housing was a major draw.

Those trends appeared to bolster the earnings of residents of the Phoenix metro area, which saw a 5.2% or $3,777 gain in median household income, by far the largest among the 25 most populated U.S. regions. Phoenix, the nation’s fastest growing city in the past decade, has a median home price around $440,000, about a third of the Bay Area.

The second-biggest gainer was the Tampa metro area in Florida, which saw a 2.6% jump in median income but still had the lowest income among major regions. The Seattle metro area, home to Amazon and Microsoft, saw a 2.1% gain and jumped ahead of Boston to become the country’s third-richest region by income, with a median of $101,721 per year. Atlanta, a burgeoning tech hub, also saw a 2.1% increase.

The New York metro area, which also had major population loss during the pandemic, saw the second highest median income drop at 4.2%, a loss of $3,721 per year. The Houston metro area had a 3.3% drop, the third highest.

Seventeen of the 25 most populated regions didn’t see significant changes in income, according to the Census Bureau.

Ted Egan, San Francisco’s chief economist, said county level data in Northern California showed “wealth migration from the coast to the fringe.”

Sacramento, San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Mendocino counties all had some income gains. “These are places where hybrid work, occasional commutes to the Bay Area are more feasible than in the past,” he said. “It’s really challenging the notion that ‘the Bay Area’ is an economic region — in a world of hybrid work, the region is probably something bigger.”

In contrast to San Francisco, California’s median household income was essentially flat, falling 0.4% to $84,907 per year. The incomes were adjusted for inflation.

The national median household income was $69,717, the first time since 2013 that the country did not see a statistically significant gain in income.

The data also displayed major racial disparities. Nationally, Asian households made a median of $100,572 per year and white households earned a median $74,932 per year. Black households made a median of only $46,774 per year, while Hispanics of any race made $60,566 per year.

Roland Li and Susie Nielson are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. Email:, Twitter: @rolandlisf, @susieneilson

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