The racial makeup of the Dayton region has shifted in the past decade, including in many long-segregated suburban communities that have become more diverse.
Several local experts said having neighbors who don’t look like you is a critical step in fighting racism, but the community is still a long way from true integration.
Residential segregation in the Dayton metro area remains high, said Joy Kadowaki, assistant professor of sociology and law at the University of Dayton’s Department of Sociology, Anthropology, & Social Work.
“So while you may have the growth in certain minority populations ... it doesn’t mean that people are integrating their neighborhoods or their social networks,” Kadowaki said.
The Dayton Daily News Path Forward project investigates the most pressing issues in our community, including race and equity. For this story, the newspaper examined the most recent 2020 U.S. Census data to see how demographics have changed and what that means.
The city of Dayton saw both its white and Black populations drop, while it had increases in its Asian populations, as well as in people who identified as “other race” or “two or more” races.
The city is no longer majority white.
Dayton City Commissioner Chris Shaw said the city only losing about 3,800 people since 2010 is a “huge change” from the previous five censuses, where more than 10,000 were lost every decade.
“Although there were declines in people who identified as Black or white, there were huge increases in people who identify as Asian, multi-racial or other,” Shaw said.
He said he was “pretty excited” about the census information, and encouraged by the diversity it shows.
Part of the demographic shift is because, much like the nation, local residents choose how they identify themselves, according to Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission Executive Director Brian Martin.
“Our community and our nation no longer fit neatly into traditional boxes of white, Black or Asian,” he said. “People are classifying themselves (and) persons in their households differently. The Dayton region is reflecting national trends with regard to a significant increase in populations identifying as other or two or more races.”
The suburbs, many of which have not been diverse historically, are becoming more diverse, Martin said.
Census data bears that out. Among the findings are:
- Miami, Warren and Montgomery counties saw their Black population grow by 24.4%, 19.4% and 1.7%, respectively, over the past decade.
- Among the 29 biggest communities in the region, four — Dayton, Trotwood, Xenia and Yellow Springs ― saw a decrease to their Black population. Of the remaining 25 communities, 22 saw double and even triple-digit growth to their Black population.
- Among those 29 communities, five — Beavercreek Twp., Huber Heights, Springboro, Tipp City and Yellow Springs — saw an increase in their white population.
- The growth of the Asian population in all four area counties, for the most part, exceeded growth of other ethnic groups, with Greene County growing by 18%, Miami by 35%, Montgomery by 38% and Warren by 109%.
“The households in Dayton, similar urban communities, and likely suburbs, are becoming more integrated among people of different races, thereby making neighborhoods and communities more diverse,” Martin said.
Many hope the census data leads to a greater and more diversified involvement in those who guide area communities.
“It seems like there’s a shift happening, and I’m hoping that shift is reflected in leadership within the city and the region,” said Amaha Sellassie, assistant professor of sociology and director of the Center for Applied Social Issues at Sinclair Community College. “I don’t see a lot of Asians in leadership roles, but it seems like their numbers are increasing, and so how is that population being represented?”
An increasing percentage of minorities moving to enclaves in the suburbs instead of staying in or moving to the city, he said, is “in part because there’s a perception that Dayton is dangerous, which I don’t necessarily believe, but that’s the perception that’s out there.”
Shifting demographics also is linked to the quality of local schools, Sellassie said.
“(Dayton Public Schools), it’s getting better, but it’s still been underperforming, so when people move in, they tend to move to the suburbs,” he said. “I think the key to Dayton’s rejuvenation is Dayton Public Schools, because most people are not going to move into an area with a school that’s underperforming. I think things are changing, but there’s ... a lot of work that needs to be done.”
Sellassie said he knows of many people who moved from Dayton to Englewood, Huber Heights and communities outside the Dayton city limits to be closer to amenities such as clothing stores and movie theaters.
“Dayton has a lot of things going for it and ... it’s turning around but, there’s definitely been a slump,” he said.
Increased diversity helps increase the likelihood of people developing mutual understanding and working together to combat racism, Sellassie said.
“If I don’t have interactions with someone different from me and I’m basing all my information off of what someone else tells me or what I see in the news or what I see in TV and movies, then I’m basing my perception off of that,” he said. “But when I have lived experiences with people, it humanizes everybody.”
Diverse regions also means a greater chance of better understanding our common humanity and our interdependence, something Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. referred to as “a single garment of destiny,” that what affects one, affects us all, and to realize that we have a shared future, Sellassie said.
“There’s not a Black future, there’s not a white future, there’s a shared future as humanity,” he said.
Sellassie said Dayton and other area communities declaring racism as a public health issue in recent years was “a great step.”
One of those communities, Huber Heights, also formed its own Culture and Diversity Citizen Action Commission. The city was one of numerous communities across the region that saw double digit growth to both its Black and Asian populations.
Huber Heights Mayor Jeff Gore said it’s fantastic to see that racial lines are slowly but surely diminishing.
“Huber Heights is a melting pot of all kinds of different ethnicities, and we’ve always been a pretty diverse city,” Gore said. “We know that there are people who move to the city because of our diversity. I think that says a lot about our community, that this is where people want to be and not just the white population, so I couldn’t be happier.”
Gore said the diverse growth seen in Huber Heights — the 27th largest city in Ohio — can be attributed to several factors, including being a developing, economically diverse community with housing options for every socioeconomic level.
“Most of all, everyone knows if they move to Huber Heights, they’re going to be welcome here,” he said.
The Culture and Diversity Citizen Action Commission, a city-appointed commission, was formed to ensure that “everybody was being treated fairly and equitably” among the city’s diverse population, he said.
“We’ve always taken the stance that it’s just about education and getting people together to understand the backgrounds and the issues that different ethnicities and races face,” Gore said. “We appreciate and support the work that they’re doing.”
The increase in diversity among the region’s suburbs can be accounted for by the nation’s changing demographics, by how people identify and by how the Census asks people to identify, Kadowaki from UD said.
“We see more people identifying as multiracial and so that accounts for some of the change,” Kadowaki said. “But this other thing is this change in how the Census asks about Hispanic or Latino origin this (time), but also asked that people could identify as any race.”
Basically, what people should be attentive to when drawing comparisons between 2010 and 2020 is “how much of that is a demographic shift versus how people are identifying,” she said.
The way the Census made its changes is an attempt to better reflect how people identify and not asking people to put themselves into narrow categories in which they may not fit, Kadowaki said.
While seeing increasing diversity is good, it is important for community members to remember that the presence of diversity is still not the same as true integration, both residential and social, she said.
That, she said, is an area that local residents and leaders need to think about when they consider what the next 10 years hold.
“You need to think about how do we create communities, strong relationships, solidarity and cohesion in our communities across people’s different identities and how do we also ensure that across these different groups of people that people have equitable access to the opportunities and the benefits that we have in our communities,” Kadowaki said.
That means building a sense of community with those neighbors, “even if those neighbors look different than they did 10 years ago,” she said.
Increasing a race’s population is not going to solve integration woes, Kadowaki said.
“It takes a concerted effort on the part of people who are active in their communities, of people who are active in city governance, in housing and community groups to integrate neighborhoods because it didn’t get this way by accident and it’s not going to come undone easily,” she said.
Martin said MVRPC’s Regional Equity Initiative within its Institute for Livable and Equitable Communities will help with educating communities in the region on these census results, and will facilitate discussions and training opportunities to ensure that all persons and communities benefit.
Mason Mayor Barbara Spaeth said the growth of that city’s Asian community, which increased 132.4% between 2010 and 2020 to become 18.4% of its overall population, was not surprising.
Spaeth, who has lived in the Warren County community most of her life, said people continue to move there because of its high-ranked school district, robust economic base, growing job scene, increasingly abundant amenities and its location between Interstates 75 and 71.
Experts say the census data can be used by Mason and other communities to determine how they can meet the needs of all residents.
“We’re always looking to improve how we can serve the needs of everyone in our community, not just one specific population,” Spaeth said. “We always want everyone here to feel like this is their home.”
About the Path Forward
Our team of reporters digs into the most pressing issues facing our community. The Path Forward project seeks solutions to these problems by investigating race and equity in the Dayton region. Follow our work at DaytonDailyNews.com/path-forward.