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Broke, USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc. -- How the Working Poor Became Big Businessby Gary Rivlin
"The poor we may always have with us, but must they always get a raw deal? That's the question award-winning journalist Gary Rivlin poses in Broke, USA. "Poverty, Inc." is the somewhat loaded term he uses to describe financial services firms that cater to the working poor — people in American households making up to about $30,000 a year.... Rivlin reports scrupulously on both sides of the fight over the ethics of payday lending and other financial services for the poor. Ultimately, however, he concludes that the poor are being exploited... But exploited compared to what?... Rivlin might say we were exploited — but it beat the hell out of the alternative." Jeremy Lott, The Wilson Quarterly (Read the entire Wilson Quarterly review)
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"[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
"[A] fascinating book." Fortune
"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." Washington Post
"Mr. Rivlin brings to his subject a genuine gift for storytelling." Wall Street Journal
"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." Atlantic
"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
"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 its leaders' astonishing wealth....Rivlin is the consummate tour guide, quick with a memorable anecdote or telling statistic." New York Times Book Review
"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 and Observer
"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." Bloomberg News
Book News Annotation:
"Poverty, Inc." is journalist Rivlin's name for the commercial complex of payday loan operations, subprime lenders, check cashing outlets, pawnbrokers, and the like that have grown into big business in the United States over the past two decades, generating immense profits in the process of fleecing and often defrauding the working poor. Rivlin takes the reader on a tour of the recent history and current landscape of Poverty, Inc., profiling both winners and losers, as well as describing the efforts of various organizations and activists to put a halt to some of the industry's more egregious practices. Annotation ©2010 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
A veteran New York Times reporter chronicles and dissects the voracious, often predatory poverty business that has flourished over the past two decades — at enormous cost to our economy, our society, and our democratic institutions.
About the Author
Gary Rivlin is the award-winning author of Fire on the Prairie; 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, 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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