Emily Momohara: Why the U.S. Census Counts

Associate Professor, Emily Hanako Momohara heads the photography department at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. Her artistic practice engages issues of immigration, social justice, and communities of color. 

Momohara is part of the Japanese American Citizens League and has been appointed to the Greater Cincinnati Counts Committee to help raise awareness about the U.S. Census. Currently, on sabbatical, working on her professional practice, she is also spearheading a census initiative at the Art Academy.

Why is the Census so important?

“Every ten years we need to get the lay of the land and see how many people live here,” explains Momohara. “It’s supposed to be a maintenance kind of thing.”

The Census is mandated by the U.S. Constitution, but it’s much more than just a government formality. 

The data collected will be used—in both the public and private sector— to help figure out how to allocate funding and resources in our communities over the next ten years. 

It effects our lives in practical, everyday ways. For example, public transportation. 

“They actually use census data to figure out where to put bus stops in our city.”

The data is also used to make decisions related to schools, social services, and health care facilities. 

“When organizations go to put in a new facility, they look at census data. They say ‘well, where is this needed?’”

“If people don’t do the census, they’re going to think that not that very many people live there… so we really need to make sure there is an accurate count of everyone that lives in whatever spot they live in.”

Why do a census initiative at the AAC?

“I wanted to get the Art Academy on board the effort once I started learning about some of the heard-to-reach groups.”

Typically hard-to-reach demographics include students, individuals ages 18-25, residents of dorms and apartments, as well as the neighborhood in which the school sits.  

“Over-the-Rhine and downtown were some of the lowest recorded numbers of the last census.”

The initial plan was for the school to throw a party on April 1st, which is National Census Day. But given current public health measures, the initiative will be primarily online and through social media.

Who should fill out the census?

“Every single person. Unless you’re a tourist. [Tourists] are the only people in this country who should not fill out this census.”

Momohara adds that there is also zero risk in filling it out. 

“There is no connection between these census numbers and any other government agency.”

Privacy is guaranteed, and the questions are kept very basic. 

“Whether you’re documented or undocumented. Whether you have a visa, you’re a naturalized citizen, or you’re a born-here citizen— everyone should fill it out.”

How long does it take?

“The census used to be longer. There’s only nine questions this time. Because they really want people to do it… it literally takes 10 minutes.”

When can it be filled out?

“The census is actually open now. It opened March 12th.”

You can go online now, or you can wait to receive the postcard in the mail. It can be done via mail, phone, or online.  

“Technically it goes until July, but if you don’t want people showing up and knocking on your door, do it before the end of April.”

So I can actually make a difference by filling out the census?

“It’s actually very beneficial to us. Especially people who have special needs or who are in communities that have different needs than mainstream culture.”

And it makes a difference in federal funding. 

“The federal money that comes from census numbers is about $1,800 per year for each person that comes into the Greater Cincinnati area… that’s anywhere from social services to education dollars. So over ten years, that’s $18,000 for everyone who fill out the census.”

“So it’s really important that we do it!”