Why Are So Many People Leaving San Francisco?

A recent meta-analysis tried to make sense of all those goodbye blog posts

San Francisco
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By Tanner Garrity / February 12, 2020 8:00 am

According to a survey released last November, 35% of people in San Francisco are considering leaving for good. That news didn’t come as much of a surprise; a mass exodus has been going on for a little while now. SFGate even employs a “Bay Area migration” reporter. For two and a half years, that title belonged to Michelle Robertson, until she, perfectly, covered her own move away.

There isn’t consensus on why so many left San Francisco in the 2010s (and will probably continue to do so in the 2020s), though issues like rent, homelessness, safety, the tech boom and traffic are often cited. But when people leave, they do often write about it, in elegiac “goodbye blog posts” on sites like Medium, Quora or WordPress.

One blogger, named Ryan Kulp, recently decided to collect data from hundreds of such posts, and searched for keywords and patterns that might hone in on the exact reasons people are leaving the Bay. For starters, he discovered that the posts have exploded over the last five years. In 2015, the internet saw around 10 such posts — last year it was over 70. (Considering the exponential nature of the world wide web, it’s highly plausible that “I’m leaving” posts, shared on social media, have been effective in influencing those already thinking about skipping town.)

But Kulp’s primary mission was to determine the exact “why” for the moves. Some words and phrases that kept turning up? Listed: “money,” “rent,” “expensive,” “affordable,” “fail,” “Portland,” “New York,” “homeless.” The first four strike the same tune; San Francisco ranks highest in the nation for cost of living relative to local income, and as more tech yahoos strike it rich, the cramped city’s housing only gets more expensive. The homeless issue, meanwhile, is famously out of control (it increased 14% from 2017 to 2019) while New York and Portland represent popular move-to cities, for different reasons. New York is seen as another stepping stone on career paths, and Portland a place where “young people go to retire.”

As Kulp points out, the results are a tad vague and imperfect, but that may offer an inlet to the selective, self-processed nature of a personal goodbye post. That the keyword “fail” was so high shows some writers may have acknowledge hard times in the start-up grind, but many others might’ve left out information on why San Francisco didn’t work for them, in an effort to protect memories or preserve privacy.

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