Census Data Shows Impact of Remote Work on Cities’ Workday Population

By Holly Dutton

Formerly bustling downtown corridors during weekdays became ghost towns during the height of the pandemic in many major cities around the country. A new report on the effect the pandemic shutdowns had on central business districts shows the global health crisis caused major drops in workday populations. In San Francisco, there were 210,000 less people during a typical workday in 2021 compared to 2019, according to the Census Bureau. Santa Clara County, where San Jose is located, experienced a drop of close to 110,000. Before the pandemic, San Francisco’s population during typical weekday work hours was more than 1.1 million people, a figure close to 30 percent higher than the number of actual residents in the city. Between July 2019 and July 2021, the city’s estimated daytime population, or what the Census Bureau calls “commuter-adjusted” population, dropped 18 percent. In Manhattan, daytime population dropped 24 percent during the same time period, while in a reversal, Brooklyn saw an additional 300,000 people each workday, a 14 percent jump.

Other big cities saw drops too. Los Angeles’ workday population dropped by 230,000, a similar figure to San Francisco but only a 2 percent decrease. In Bay Area counties, the population didn’t just drop on the weekdays. San Francisco, Santa Clara, and San Mateo counties all had decreases in resident populations in 2021. These numbers are a revealing look at how remote work has affected office building occupancy and entire business districts, much of which tends to be built around supporting an influx of weekday office workers. While the figures are certainly eye-opening, they are from 2021, a time when many offices were still closed. Since the beginning of this year, a number of major employers have called workers back to the office more days out of the week, and overall, office occupancy is on the rise in the U.S. But in some cities, especially San Francisco, occupancy numbers are still nowhere near where the commercial real estate industry and city officials want them to be.

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