San Jose’s pandemic recovery ranks high among other US metros

New research, developments, and data indicate San Jose’s downtown isn’t in a “doom spiral” — it’s on the upswing.

A view of downtown San Jose, featuring trees, buildings and a sunny blue skyline.

San Jose’s economic recovery is inspiring hope among lawmakers and businesses.

Photo via @thevacantroom

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The term “doom loop” was used to describe San Jose’s struggles amidst the pandemic, but the city might not be in as dire straits as some forecasters were predicting in years’ past.

In fact, this metro is boomin’ — new data suggests San Jose’s economic recovery is in full swing.

📉 Where we started

In 2019, Santa Clara County created ~36,000 new jobs, and unemployment hovered around 2.5%. Mineta International Airport reported a five-year high of 15.7 million passengers through their hub.

However, by the time 2020 rolled around, unemployment spiked to 14% and nearly 20 out of every 1,000 businesses had shuttered for good. SJC Airport reported more than an 80% drop in air traffic. Nearly overnight, downtown became a ghost town.

People in San Jose's SoFA district enjoy a summer festival, milling around the streets, looking at merchandise, and listening to music.

San Jose’s vibrant SoFA district hosts a myriad of events + festivals

Photo by SJtoday Staff

📈 Where we are now

Researchers from the University of Toronto took cell phone data showing activity hotspots in downtown areas from several months starting in 2019, and then compared that to the same data for subsequent years.

It was found that San Jose’s downtown activity is now 96% where it was in 2019, the third-highest activity among major metropolitan areas in the study.

Here’s how we ranked next to other cities.

  • Las Vegas, NV — 103%
  • El Paso, TX — 97%
  • San Jose, CA — 96%
  • Oakland, CA — 74%
  • San Francisco, CA — 67%

3 years later, Santa Clara County’s unemployment rate has been on a steady decline, hovering around 3.3% as of August 2023, with the county adding 18,400 jobs. While San Jose’s affordable housing situation continues to be a struggle, the city approved and broke ground on several new key developments this fall. Passenger traffic at SJC increased by 23.6% over 2022.

We’d have to agree — If you spend any time downtown, the results are obvious. From San Pedro Square to SoFA any day of the week, to almost any weekend in St. James Park or Plaza de Cesar Chavez — there’s always something to do downtown.

Let us know how you feel about the state of San Jose’s recovery.