A recap of Michigan Radio's "Culture of Class" series

Nov 28, 2011

From November 14 through November 23, Michigan Radio reporters explored social class in our society.

We looked at how social class is defined, how people relate to it, and the diverse ways it affects our daily lives.

In case you missed any of these stories, here is a brief rundown of the topics we explored.

Class segregation: November 14

Most people are familiar with racial segregation, but researchers say current trends show an increase in segregation based on class, especially as it relates to income. Michigan Radio's Lester Graham reported, the seeds of these current trends were sown in the racial segregation policies of the mid-twentieth century, but while most of those practices are now illegal, arguments over property value and "community character" still serve to separate the "haves" from the "have-nots." Graham also explored the way that class segregation can shape values and foster ideological polarization.

Living next to industry (part 1): November 15

In the first part of a two-part series, The Environment Report's Rebecca Williams took us to a section of Detroit where residents share their neighborhoods with "the state’s only oil refinery, owned by Marathon Petroleum. The salt mine. The city’s wastewater treatment plant. DTE’s coal-burning power plant. Severstal Steel. And many more." Williams offered some historical insight on the close proximity between  the area's homes and industry, and talked to residents about why they're not leaving despite pollution and foul odors.

Mixing it up on the dance floor: November 15

While social class crops up in many aspects of daily life, you might occasionally find a context where class distinctions are checked at the door. Michigan Radio's Kyle Norris took us to one such scenario that is a bit unexpected: a lesbian nightclub, near the Detroit Metro airport. Norris reported that at Stiletto's in Inkster, people from all walks of life---including different races, ages, income brackets, and sexual orientations---come together to blow off steam, and discusses how a common identity can supersede class differences.

Reasons to serve: November 16

There's a commonly held belief that with an all-volunteer military, the choice to join up is made as a last resort, mostly by those on the bottom rungs of the socioeconomic ladder, but as Michigan Radio's Mark Brush reported, the motivations for many joining the military are much more complex. Brush spoke to current and former service members who said that factors such as a desire to serve, patriotism, GI benefits, and gaining hands on experience, especially given the current economic climate, all played a part in their decisions.

Investing in early education: November 17

Finishing high school and attending college are discussed a lot in relation to class inequality, but as Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith reported, educators and early-childhood education advocates say that achievement gaps can start to develop before a child ever sets foot in a classroom. Smith tells us about government programs like Early Head Start, designed to help children under 3 with language acquisition and cognitive development, and explores the potential economic impacts of investing in early-childhood education.

The refinery next door (part 2): November 17

In the second installment of her report on Detroiters living near heavy industry, Michigan Radio's Rebecca Williams took us to the Oakwood Heights neighborhood in the southwest part of the city where residents are facing the expansion of a nearby Marathon oil refinery and are contemplating the company's offer to buy out their homes.

Bridging a class gap: November 17

Benton Harbor and St. Joseph are two Michigan cities that sit right across the river from each other, but from a class standpoint, they're a lot farther apart. In a video segment, Michigan Radio's Mercedes Mejia and Meg Cramer spoke to residents on both sides of the river and explored the socioeconomic factors that separate the two cities.

Using the arts to level the playing field: November 18

A college degree is more crucial than ever in terms of upward mobility, yet for many lower-income kids, higher ed seems out of reach. But a Detroit nonprofit is making progress in changing that, using the arts as a hook. Michigan Radio's Jennifer Guerra reported that while  Mosaic Youth Theater of Detroit is centered around music and theater performance, the group provides support for students from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds and encourages them to strive for college readiness, with measurable results.

Class and the courts: November 21

There is, perhaps, no scenario where class is more evident than in the courtroom. If you are accused of a crime, the quality of your defense often depends on your income level, and according to Michigan Radio's investigative reporter Lester Graham, many who depend on court appointed counsel are relying on a system that is often ill-equipped and sometimes ethically questionable. Graham spoke to advocates for public defense reform and  explored the ways that the system might be improved.

Pay or stay: November 22

When you step into a courtroom, crime is supposed to be crime, regardless of social class, but as Michigan Radio's Rina Miller showed us, whether you go home or go to jail  sometimes depends on whether you have money. Miller reports on the ways that inability to pay---be it bills, child support, or criminal fines---is linked to time spent behind bars and talks to people who have come out on the losing end of the equation.

A poor neighborhood, rich in community: November 23

In the final feature of our culture of class series, Michigan Radio's Sarah Hulett took us to the Brightmoor neighborhood in Detroit and spoke with residents about the ways they are addressing issues like abandoned buildings and truancy, while at the same time building a strong local community. As Brightmoor resident Riet Schumack put it, “our children cannot wait for the city to get their act together. If we as citizens don’t do it, we have a whole generation of kids – another generation of kids that is lost. And I won’t stand for that."

- John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom