San Francisco becoming a child-free zone as youth population declines 

Despite efforts to stem the tide of family flight, the population of children in San Francisco continues to ebb.

Families that remain in The City are bucking the trend that has plagued San Francisco for years as the number of children — defined as people up to 17 years old — has dropped from 181,532 in 1960 to 107,524 today, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau figures. The 2000 census counted 112,802 youths.

The decrease is disappointing news for city officials, who have attempted to counter the family-flight trend by creating more affordable housing, improving schools and cutting costs, such as a college savings account for kindergarten enrollees.    

“It’s definitely not a hopeful sign that we have 5,000 less kids,” said N’Tanya Lee, the executive director of San Francisco-based advocacy group Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, which lobbies City Hall on budget and housing issues.

The census has yet to release a more detailed age breakdown of The City’s youth population.

A 2009 controller’s survey found families with children were no longer more likely to leave The City than other people, with the exception of families with children under the age of 6.

“The percentage of parents with young children considering a move has increased from 36 percent in 2007 to 41 percent in 2009 — though it remains lower than the 45 percent in 2005,” the report said.

“I’m very surprised,” said Margaret Brodkin, the former head of the Department Children, Youth and Their Families. “I thought we had finally turned the corner in being a more child-friendly city and keeping families in The City.”

Brodkin suggested the count might be off because it failed to account for a number of undocumented youths.

Omar Khalif, who is a proponent of a ballot measure to advise changing the campus-assignment system to ensure kids can attend school closer to home, is a father of four daughters who lives in the Bayview district. He said he’s not surprised by the trends.

“This is no longer a blue-collar town,” Khalif said. “You don’t have families moving here.”

As for what The City could do to make it easier on families to survive in San Francisco?

“How about giving families a tax break?” said Khalif, referring to the proposal to offer a payroll tax break on new hires for companies willing to locate to the mid-Market Street area. “Here we are living paycheck to paycheck.”

Mayor Ed Lee’s spokeswoman Christine Falvey said Lee has been meeting with family services organizations as he drafts a budget for next fiscal year.

“Mayor Lee is committed to keeping families in San Francisco,” Falvey said. “He is focused on job creation and economic development, two very real factors in keeping families in San Francisco.”

Efforts to keep families from splitting town

- 1,942 affordable-housing units currently in planning or under construction are targeted specifically for very low- and low-income families.
- Kindergarten to College: Every student who is enrolled in kindergarten receives a college savings account with an initial $50 deposit from The City.
- The City’s new multilingual public benefits website provides eligibility screening and electronic applications for food stamps and affordable health coverage in English, Spanish and Mandarin.
- After-school programs: Most have access to after-school programs, and youth participants report satisfaction with those programs.

Source: Department of Children, Youth and Their Families

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