Economic impact of declining populations in North Bay

According to the latest estimates, North Bay’s population has contracted during the pandemic after slowing in previous years. Experts attribute the underlying causes to the challenges the region’s economy has faced in attracting and retaining workers and businesses.

Since April 2020, the region has lost 22,000 residents, or 1.5% of the 1.4 million who live in Sonoma, Solano, Marin, Napa, Mendocino and Lake counties, according to an estimate released earlier this month. by the California Department of Finance.

For decades the area grew, but at a slower rate each decade. Census data analysis shows a regional growth rate of 4.4% in the 2010s, 5.1% in the 2000s, 14.2% in the 1990s, 25% in the 1980s and 30s, 5% in the 1970s.

The Department of Finance uses county numbers — the average of birth and death statistics as well as address changes from driver’s licenses and tax data — to determine how to distribute state money to local areas. Estimates of urban populations are developed from counts of the existing housing stock and their occupancy.

Within these death statistics is a sobering statistic – 1,638 deaths so far attributed to COVID-19 in the six counties of North Bay.

Marin County has suffered the largest proportional decline in the region in terms of population decline since March 2020 and the last estimate in January 2022, down 2%, or nearly 5,200 residents, according to state estimates. . Next come Mendocino (-1.7%, 1,600), Solano (-1.4%, 6,200), Sonoma (-1.3%, 6,400), Napa (-1.3%, 1,800) and Lake (-1.1%, 750).

They joined 34 of California’s 58 counties in losing population. On average, interior counties gained while most coastal counties were down, with the exception of San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz counties assigned to returning students, according to the Department of Finance.

That agency attributed the statewide decline to aging baby boomers and declining birth rates among younger generations, in addition to federal immigration policy and an increase in the number of residents leaving the state.

The trend towards an aging population could also be behind the declines in Napa, Marin and Sonoma counties, according to economist Robert Eyler of Sonoma State University, noting that Marin has the median age the highest – 47.1 years, according to the Census Bureau – of California counties with more than 250,000 inhabitants.

“This phenomenon of aging has been exacerbated by the pandemic,” he said.

Whether this aging trend will continue is in question due to an influx of young professionals from elsewhere in the Bay Area during the pandemic, Eyler said. Data on population changes in North Bay and Bay Area counties over the past two years is expected to be released this summer.

Pandemic public health orders have closed many offices across the state, they have led to an increase in remote working for information-related jobs and an increase in relocations out of Bay Area tech clusters to suburban areas such as North Bay, which also has the top California resort destinations.

What is known is that Marin, Napa and Sonoma counties have faced high real estate prices and difficulties attracting well-paying businesses, although Napa County continues to rely heavily on its wine and tourism industries, said Eyler, who routinely analyzes contract data from several economic firms. development groups in the region.

Median home prices in North Bay counties have mostly more than doubled since 2015 and have risen 16.5% to 53.5% since the start of the pandemic, according to data from the California Association of Realtors. In fact, Marin’s median jumped an unprecedented 31% year-over-year to $2.11 million in April.

“It’s a combination of high-end homes trading at very high prices and strong demand from San Francisco,” said Tracy McLaughlin, one of the brokerage firm’s top-selling agents. real estate The Agency.

A number of those multimillion-dollar buyers during the pandemic were young professionals, in their late 20s or early 30s, with no families or with small families, she said.

“The population is much, much younger – tons of cash. They’ve had IPOs, and when you get that kind of tech wealth, it’s all hopping around in a geographic area,” McLaughlin said.

Marin has been attractive for tech wealth, especially during the pandemic, as younger executives sought more outdoor experiences not as readily available in urban settings, such as backyard barbecues and mountain biking, he said. she stated.

Eyler said the pandemic has also accelerated the migration of residents after wildfires over the past seven years.

Contact Jeff Quackenbush at [email protected] or 707-521-4256.

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