From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc.—How the Working Poor Became Big Business
By Gary Rivlin
HarperBusiness, Hardcover, 9780061733215, 368pp.
Publication Date: June 1, 2010
For most people, the Great Crash of 2008 has meant troubling times. Not so for those in the flourishing poverty industry, for whom the economic woes spell an opportunity to expand and grow. These mercenary entrepreneurs have taken advantage of an era of deregulation to devise high-priced products to sell to the credit-hungry working poor, including the instant tax refund and the payday loan. In the process they've created an industry larger than the casino business and have proved that pawnbrokers and check cashers, if they dream big enough, can grow very rich off those with thin wallets.
Broke, USA is Gary Rivlin's riveting report from the economic fringes. From the annual meeting of the national check cashers association in Las Vegas to a tour of the foreclosure-riddled neighborhoods of Dayton, Ohio, here is a subprime Fast Food Nation featuring an unforgettable cast of characters and memorable scenes. Rivlin profiles players like a former small-town Tennessee debt collector whose business offering cash advances to the working poor has earned him a net worth in the hundreds of millions, and legendary Wall Street dealmaker Sandy Weill, who rode a subprime loan business into control of the nation's largest bank. Rivlin parallels their stories with the tale of those committed souls fighting back against the major corporations, chain franchises, and newly hatched enterprises that fleece the country's hardworking waitresses, warehouse workers, and mall clerks.
Timely, shocking, and powerful, Broke, USA offers a much-needed look at why our country is in a financial mess and gives a voice to the millions of ordinary Americans left devastated in the wake of the economic collapse.
“Broke, USA is vital reading for those seeking to deepen their understanding of the economic crash of the past few years.”
“This is a powerful analysis, detailing how the financial sector has come to its current state of crisis and including personal stories of some among the millions of working Americans who have been exploited along the way.”
-—Booklist (starred review)
“Broke USA will leave you mad as hell. Thanks, Gary Rivlin, for introducing us to folks like Bill Brennan, who early on saw it coming: the predatory lending that has destroyed communities. If only we had listened.”
-—Alex Kotlowitz, author of There Are No Children Here and Never a City So Real
“A fascinating and very important work of investigation and explanation, which I hope gets the wide attention it deserves.... This is a book with the potential to stimulate outrage—and political reform.”
-—James Fallows, the Atlantic author of Breaking the News
“[A] scathing, important book, Broke, USA... includes one shocking anecdote after another.”
-—Joe Nocera, the New York Times
“Gary Rivlin’s Broke, USA is a necessary companion...”
“An exhaustive exposé.”
“In Broke, USA, Rivlin lays out this depressing story in rich detail.... [H]is riveting look at the calamitous effects on America demands attention.”
-—Charlotte News & Observer
“Rivlin strives to portray the people behind Poverty Inc. in a fair light…but his sympathy and the reader’s steadily evaporate with his well-chosen tales of the industry’s coercive tactics and it’s leaders’ astonishing wealth….Rivlin is the consummate tour guide, quick with a memorable anecdote or telling statistic.”
-—New York Times Book Review
“This thorough and thoughtful piece of reporting has much to teach us about the challenges the U.S. faces today, especially when it comes to improving financial literacy. It should be required reading for legislators and lenders across the land.”
“[An] incisive, important new expose, Broke, USA...is enraging, but Rivlin’s work also is scrupulously fair.... [W]hat makes Broke, USA so readable is Rivlin’s skill at telling a complex story through engaging characters.”
-—Cleveland Plain Dealer
“To understand American finance, you need to understand Ace Cash Express as much as you need to understand Goldman Sachs. Which is why Gary Rivlin’s “Broke, USA” is a necessary companion.”
-—Ezra Klein, Washington Post
“[A] fascinating book.”
“[Rivlin] offers a superb expose of the ‘poverty business’... A timely, important, and deeply disturbing look at the cycle of dept in the nation’s most vulnerable.”
“Gary Rivlin rivets readers.”
“With revealing stories, Gary Rivlin spotlights the systematic, widespread economic abuse of the poor by supposedly respectable corporations whose predatory conduct breeds misery and undoes many efforts by taxpayers to alleviate poverty.”
-—David Cay Johnston, Pulitzer prize-winning author of Free Lunch and Perfectly Legal
“Mr. Rivlin brings to his subject a genuine gift for storytelling.”
-—Wall Street Journal
Pawnshops, payday lenders, check cashers and rent-to-own companies take in $33 billion a year. In writing his new book, Broke, USA, Gary Rivlin discovered how the businesses justified making huge profits off the working poor. More at NPR.org
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