Broke, USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc. - How the Working Poor Became Big Business

Overview

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 ...

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Broke, USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc. - How the Working Poor Became Big Business

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Overview

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.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Journalist Rivlin (Fire on the Prairie) offers a superb exposé of the “poverty business”—the flock of companies that cater to (and prey on) the working poor. For people living paycheck to paycheck and sometimes falling behind with rent, car payments, and grocery bills, “fringe financing” and the ubiquitous Rent-A-Centers, Jackson Hewitt, payday lenders, pawnshops, and check cashers—may seem like their only safety net. These businesses may tout themselves as a necessary service and force for economic development in low-income communities, but Rivlin reveals their dark underbelly: punishing rates of interest and customer service reps explicitly trained to mislead customers who appear “gullible.” He delves into the effect of financial deregulation on “fringe financing,” predatory subprime lending, and the major players in this unsavory world, including Allan Jones, a debt collector, worth $200 million, and the activists and advocates like Bill Brennan who've faced them down in the courts. A timely, important, and deeply disturbing look at the cycle of debt of the nation's most vulnerable. (June)
Publishers Weekly
“[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.”
Booklist (starred review)
“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.”
Fortune
“[A] fascinating book.”
Fast Company
“Gary Rivlin rivets readers.”
Justin Moyer
…an exhaustive exposé of pawn shops, check-cashing rip-offs, payday loans, auto title loans, rent-to-own schemes, subprime mortgages and other "equity stripping" means of getting poor people into debt they can't carry, then taking their houses and cars while derivatives backed by those bad loans are sold to investors.
—The Washington Post
Megan Buskey
It's easy to lose one's bearings amid all the legislative fights activists have waged against this sector, but Rivlin is the consummate tour guide, quick with a memorable anecdote or telling statistic to engage even the most ­policy-averse reader.
—The New York Times
New York Times Book Review
"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."
Washington Post
"An exhaustive exposé."
Cleveland Plain Dealer
"[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."
Booklist
"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."
Newsweek
"Gary Rivlin’s Broke, USA is a necessary companion..."
Wall Street Journal
"Mr. Rivlin brings to his subject a genuine gift for storytelling."
Associated Press Staff
"Broke, USA is vital reading for those seeking to deepen their understanding of the economic crash of the past few years."
Bloomberg News
"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."
Charlotte News & Observer
"In Broke, USA, Rivlin lays out this depressing story in rich detail.... [H]is riveting look at the calamitous effects on America demands attention."
Fortune
"[A] fascinating book."
Fast Company
"Gary Rivlin rivets readers."
Joe Nocera
"[A] scathing, important book, Broke, USA... includes one shocking anecdote after another."
Ezra Klein
"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."
James Fallows
"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."
David Cay Johnston
"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."
Alex Kotlowitz
"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."
—Joe Nocera
“[A] scathing, important book, Broke, USA... includes one shocking anecdote after another.”
—Wall Street Journal
“Mr. Rivlin brings to his subject a genuine gift for storytelling.”
—New York Times Book Review
“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.”
—Washington Post
“An exhaustive exposé.”
—Fortune
“[A] fascinating book.”
—Fast Company
“Gary Rivlin rivets readers.”
—Cleveland Plain Dealer
“[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.”
—Booklist (starred review)
“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.”
—Ezra Klein
“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.”
—Newsweek
“Gary Rivlin’s Broke, USA is a necessary companion...”
—Associated Press
“Broke, USA is vital reading for those seeking to deepen their understanding of the economic crash of the past few years.”
—Bloomberg News
“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.”
—Charlotte News & Observer
“In Broke, USA, Rivlin lays out this depressing story in rich detail.... [H]is riveting look at the calamitous effects on America demands attention.”
—James Fallows
“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.”
—David Cay Johnston
“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.”
—Alex Kotlowitz
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.”
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061733215
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/8/2010
  • Pages: 358
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Gary Rivlin
Gary Rivlin is the award-winning author of Fire on the Prairie (Winner of the Carl Sandburg Award); Drive By (a New York Times Notable Book of the Year); and The Plot to Get Bill Gates. A two-time Gerald Loeb Award winner, he has worked as a writer and reporter for The New York Times, The Industry Standard, East Bay Express, and the Chicago Reader, and his articles have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, GQ, Salon, Newsweek, and Wired, among other publications.
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Table of Contents

Prologue Tommy's Angel 1

One Check Cashers of the World Unite 21

Two The Birth of the Predatory Lender 36

Three Going Big 60

Four Confessions of a Subprime Lender 85

Five Freddie Rogers 104

Six The Great Payday Land Rush 116

Seven Subprime City 128

Eight An Appetite for Subprime 143

Nine "No Experience Necessary" 168

Ten Same Old Faces 186

Eleven The Great What-If 199

Twelve Public Enemy Number One 218

Thirteen Past Due 239

Fourteen Maximizing Share of Wallet 262

Fifteen Payday, the Sequel 274

Sixteen Dayton after Dark 288

Epilogue Borrowed Time 310

Notes on Sources 333

Acknowledgments 344

Index 347

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  • Posted September 28, 2011

    BROKE USA

    This book should be mandatory reading for high school and college students. Should be read by all consumers.

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    Posted December 26, 2010

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