The Census Department published new population figures for 2014 this week. KQED says that "The Bay Area Is Getting Way More Crowded," and made this map to show the trend; the reddest areas are the places where population is growing fastest.
KQED isn't wrong. The population of the Bay Area grew 1.3 percent last year, which is a lot better than the 0.7 percent average annual growth rate the Bay Area has seen since 2000.
But it's also important to keep a sense of perspective: 1.3 percent is not a very impressive growth rate. The population of the Houston metropolitan area grew by 2.4 percent between 2013 and 2014. The Dallas metro area grew by 1.8 percent during the same period. Greater Atlanta grew by 1.5 percent.
And these southern cities have been growing faster than the San Francisco Bay Area for more than a decade. Between 2000 and 2010, the Bay Area grew by about 5 percent. Houston, Dallas, and Atlanta all increased their populations by more than 20 percent.
The crazy thing about this is that while Atlanta, Dallas, and Houston all have perfectly healthy economies (Houston especially has benefited from an oil boom for much of the last decade), none of them compare Silicon Valley's.
Google, Apple, Facebook, and other internet giants are growing fast, and they're desperate to hire more engineers. The Bay Area should be comfortably topping the population-growth charts among large metropolitan areas. And the rising wealth of the region's technology elite should be boosting demand for schoolteachers, doctors, chefs, barbers, landscapers, nannies, and others in service jobs. That, in turn, should trigger a massive building boom, creating jobs for construction workers. Hundreds of thousands — perhaps millions — of people outside of high-tech should be benefiting from the boom.
But that hasn't really happened. Strict building regulations have made it impossible to significantly increase the Bay Area's housing stock. So rising tech industry wealth is mostly translating into higher housing costs. Middle-class people outside the tech sector are finding it harder to pay the rent and impossible to buy a house.
This isn't inevitable. San Francisco's population density is about half of Brooklyn's, and the rest of the Bay Area is a lot more sparsely populated than San Francisco. The region could be growing a lot faster than 1.3 percent per year if local officials — in San Francisco and especially in Silicon Valley's myriad low-density residential towns — wanted to. But so far they haven't chosen to do so.