The Unbanking of America (Hardcover)

How the New Middle Class Survives

By Lisa Servon

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 9780544602311, 272pp.

Publication Date: January 10, 2017

List Price: 27.00*
* Individual store prices may vary.

Description

An urgent, absorbing exposé—why Americans are fleeing our broken banking system in growing numbers, and how alternatives are rushing in to do what banks once did

What do an undocumented immigrant in the South Bronx, a high-net-worth entrepreneur, and a twenty-something graduate student have in common? All three are victims of our dysfunctional mainstream bank and credit system. Today nearly half of all Americans live from paycheck to paycheck, and income volatility has doubled over the past thirty years. Banks, with their high monthly fees and overdraft charges, are gouging their low- and middle-income customers, while serving only the wealthiest Americans. 

Lisa Servon delivers a stunning indictment of America’s banks, together with eye-opening dispatches from inside a range of banking alternatives that have sprung up to fill the void. She works as a teller at RiteCheck, a check-cashing business in the South Bronx, and as a payday lender in Oakland. She looks closely at the workings of a tanda, an informal lending club.  And she delivers fascinating, hopeful portraits of the entrepreneurs reacting to the unbanking of America by designing systems to creatively serve many of us.  Banks were once essential pillars of our lives; now we can no longer count on them to do right by us.

"Required reading for fans of muckraking authors like Barbara Ehrenreich, this fascinating look at the future of money management insists that the 'unbanked' are a sector deserving of respect and solid options."Publishers Weekly, starred review


About the Author

LISA SERVON is Professor of City and Regional Planning at the University of Pennsylvania and a former dean of the New School.  Her work on consumer financial services has been published in the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic online, and The New Yorker online, among many others. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.


Praise For The Unbanking of America: How the New Middle Class Survives

"The Unbanking of America is an eye-opening and compelling read about an issue that touches us all: financial security. Local banks were part of the fabric of our communities; their disappearance has tilted the playing field further toward the rich but also opened the door to a new and much more service-oriented financial industry. The unbanked may be leading the way!"—Anne-Marie Slaughter, author of Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family
 
“Lisa Servon is one gutsy professor.  Unlike so many academics – who just theorize – she lived her story.  She actually rolled up her sleeves and worked as a teller and a loan collector in several poor neighborhoods.  She also provides a smart, lucid, and original take on how our banking system became such a mess.  This is an important book.”—Jake Halpern, author of Bad Paper:  Inside the Secret World of Debt Collectors
 
“In her eye-opening book, Lisa Servon does a Barbara Ehrenreich and goes to work at a check-cashing shop and a payday lending store to illuminate how this little-understood side of the financial service world works.  Servon shows keen insights into the financial problems that millions of Americans face, how and why banks and other financial institutions often fail them, and what’s on the horizon for financial services for the new middle class.” —Steven Greenhouse, long-time journalist and author of The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker
 
“A startling ethnographic investigation of everyday financial life, based on Lisa Servon's work as a teller, lender, and loan collector in some of America's most insecure communities, and extensive research on banking among the middle class. The Unbanking of America muddies the distinctions between reputed and stigmatized financial institutions, showing that we're all overpaying for low levels of service. It's an important story, and a powerful read.” —Eric Klinenberg, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University

"The failure of banks to meet the needs of the 99%—and the cottage industries filling the gap—are thoughtfully explored in this startling and absorbing exposé ... Required reading for fans of muckraking authors like Barbara Ehrenreich, this fascinating look at the future of money management insists that the ever-growing number of the 'unbanked' are a sector deserving of respect and solid options."Publishers Weekly, starred review

"The author delivers valuable evidence on the fragility of the personal economies of most Americans these days . . . An indictment of a financial structure bent on large returns at the expense of all else, but also offers hope for ways around that ravenous system."
Kirkus Reviews

"An intelligent plea for financial justice . . . [An] excellent book . . . Servon’s compassion and intelligence light up every page of this valuable book.  'Unbanking' exposes core reasons why many Americans aren’t gaining financial traction as she skewers huge banks for maneuvers and manipulations that have little to do with providing service."
Christian Science Monitor

"[An} exceptional piece of academic research that not only masters the statistics and the implications of an important social problem, but informs that cool account with frontline observations in the great tradition of Barbara Ehrenreich . .  Unlike too many other commentators, Servon does not let mainstream banks off the hook in her rigorous analysis of the dynamics of lower- and middle-class debt . . . A readable, informative, thorough, and even gut-wrenching account of an under-reported problem that causes much misery. Viewed as a piece of muckraking journalism, her book is a significant contribution to the progressive narrative regarding the biggest problems we confront."
The American Prospect


Coverage from NPR