State Rep. Fred Strahorn met Wednesday with other Dayton officials to brainstorm ways to boost participation in the next United States census. Although Census Day is still more than a year away, the Trump administration’s recent proposal to add a new citizenship question to the survey has shined a spotlight on the effort. Some community leaders say their neighbors want to opt out of the count.
North Dayton activist Tommy Owens says that when he talks to some people in his community about the census, they have a lot of questions.
“[They ask] why should we be counted? Why should we trust people?”
Owens says his neighbors say they haven’t seen much improvement in their community since the last census was taken in 2010.
“Everything actually has gotten worse, we’re talking about abandoned housing, structures, loss of jobs, roads," he says, "so, you keep asking people to support you, but how are you going to support them?”
Some city and state officials are trying to convince communities like Owens’ that it is worth it to participate in the survey. Census data is used to determine political representation, and funding for many government and private-aid programs.
But, many people in the Dayton region aren’t represented in that data.
Dayton is home to several areas designated by census officials as "hard to count." They’re neighborhoods with historically low census response rates. Many of these areas are low-income, include non-traditional housing units, or have high minority and immigrant populations.
Public officials at Wednesday’s event were working on new ways to get the word out about the importance of the census.
Nikol Miller, with the Dayton Montgomery County Complete Count Committee, says traditional advertising may not be effective enough in some undercounted Miami Valley communities.
“But, when I hear my pastor preaching about it, when I hear my employer discussing it, when I get my water bill and it tells me to go fill out my census form [...] If we have it come from different sources, then hopefully people will trust at least one of them,” she says.
Activists at the meeting also suggested hiring more Dayton residents as census takers in hopes that familiar faces may help to rebuild trust within undercounted communities.