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Broke, USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc.How the Working Poor Became Big Business Hardcover – June 8, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From 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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Long before subprime lending and its role in the near-collapse of the U.S. financial system, a critical mass of businesses aimed at the working poor had been growing across the nation and exerting power in Washington. Award-winning reporter Rivlin chronicles the boom in the “fringe financial sector” as pawnshops, pay-day lenders, and rent-to-own stores have blossomed, gone public, and gained a measure of respectability, all by targeting their overpriced services to the working poor. Whether they have been exploiting their customers or merely providing them with desperately needed services is a matter of perspective to the gallery of characters Rivlin interviewed: borrowers who lost their homes, small-town debt collectors who moved into the cash-advance business, and consumer advocates fighting to curb the abuses of Poverty Inc., which has generated an economy of at least $100 billion a year compared to $60 billion for casinos. 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. --Vanessa Bush

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: HarperBusiness; 1 edition (June 8, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061733210
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061733215
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #795,101 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I'll confess that in high school I was the type more likely to read the Cliff Notes than the assigned work. I was going to be an engineer; who cared about books? But for a requirement in college I took a literature course and I've been grateful ever since. I joke that I'm a self-taught reader, having pretty much started at age 19.

Politics and social issues propelled me into journalism. I felt like I had something to say so I started to write. In college I always enjoyed reading a great alternative weekly, the Chicago Reader. I began contributing to the Reader and eventually earned a staff job there writing about Chicago politics. That led to my first book, Fire on the Prairie, in which I tell the story of race politics at work in every big city by telling the tale of Chicago during the 1980s, a particularly brutal racial time in that city's history.

Youth violence was the subject of my second book, Drive-By. In that work, I introduce readers to the range of characters and issues at work in a single drive-by shooting that left a 13-year-old dead and put three teenagers in prison for murder. With my third book, The Plot to Get Bill Gates, I returned to my early tech roots.

I left the book world for about a decade. I started writing for a range of magazines, from Wired to the New York Times Magazine to GQ. At the start of 2004, I took a staff position with The New York Times. As terrific experience as that was, I'm very happy to be returning to books and talking about my latest work, BROKE, USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc. - How the Working Poor Became Big Business.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By M. Buchman on June 14, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Gary Rivlin brings clarity and depth in this report on the predatory lending business and other aspects of what he calls Poverty, Inc., the corporate efforts to make big profits on the backs of America's hard working poor and financially vulnerable.

Based on hundreds of interviews, the book combines a business reporters' careful sense of detail with the facts, numbers, policies and business decisions that have defined the industries involved, as well as a biographers eye for human detail and personality that draws us into the stories. His profiles of the business folks, advocates and unfortunate victims really drive the writing and make human the complicated web of check cashers, payday lenders, rent to owners and others who are ravaging our low income communities in a way that makes the casino business look like small potatoes.

Rivlin has taken a complicated topic and created a page-turning pot boiler that will raise your awareness and, regardless of your personal take on the issues, likely raise your hackles as well. Bravo!
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Michael J. Kelly on June 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I've read Gary Rivlin's other books -- Fire on the Prairie, Drive By and The Plot to Get Bill Gates -- and this book continues what I liked about those books: great, solid reporting and research, but presented as a very readable and interesting story.

Some of the characters Rivlin found are just wonderful. "Chris Browning knows she can be difficult. But what are you going to do when you're surrounded by idiots and fools?" Browning worked for years in a payday loan store in Mansfield, OH, knows where the bodies are buried, and isn't afraid to talk. She's just one of the entertaining characters in BROKE, USA. Rivlin also found those working to stem the tide of foreclosure and wealth stripping - people like Bill Faith, of Columbus, OH, who gets things done, like getting Ohio to pass a referendum limiting predatory lending despite being outspent 60 to 1 by the industry. "BROKE, USA" weaves the stories of these characters together to tell a great story about how payday grew from nothing to being a multi-billion dollar industry in just a dozen or so years.

This isn't a book about the big picture of the financial crisis. But if you want to see inside a huge part of real Americans' daily financial lives and the pain large publicly-traded companies like Citigroup will inflict on struggling people in order to continue paying themselves millions in bonuses - this book delivers.
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38 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Book & Music Lover on June 8, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Jackson Hewitt, H&R Block, Rent-A-Center, Citicorp, your friendly neighborhood pawn shop, Cash America, are just a few of the crooks hiding under the veil of legitimacy, who are in effect legal "Crooks." The book pulls back the cover on them all, and their absurd claim to be providing a needed service to a very vulnerable sector of America, "The Working Poor."

Not to say that those who use these services are blameless, but to say that if we had a functioning Government no such chicanery would exist. At the same time most of this kind of dealing came about because of "DEREGULATION."

Each time an attempt is made to put this Genie away for good the Industry lobbyists go to work and tout the need for such services. Bernie Madoff, Michael Milkin, Enron, Worldcom, Tyco, and Hospital Corporation of America, are all apart of the argument that left alone the market can and will police itself, and you right out of your money.

Take for instance the so called "Pay-day-loan. People who do business with such establishments take out a short term loan of say $200.00 dollars, with $30.00 dollars in interest for 2 weeks. So the story goes you can just pay the $30.00 interest while the principle is rolled over. Now the hole is growing. That short term loan continues to grow until there is no recourse but to take out another loan, likely with yet another such agency, to take care of the first. Fast talking representatives are hired to keep this madness going.

Rent-A-Center, has figured out a means to get an individual to pay 3-5 times the worth of a television set, and not a new set, mind you, but a used set. That is if you keep your payments up, and fulfill your contract. This has expanded into computers, furniture, appliances, etc.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Morine on October 7, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a good book about the poverty industry in the USA. It focused mostly on the pawn shops, payday loads, and other ways that the wealthy have taken advantage of the poor working class. Some of the stories in this book are very sad. It seems so wrong that people will purposely take advantage of others that are less educated and experienced with money. Often these business prey on those who hold low paying jobs, and mostly cause them to become even deeper in the hole in debt. These are not lazy people, but people who have not always been given the same advantages as others have. It seems that this industry goes after minorities. This book really opened my eyes to the banks and even some of the largest businesses in America. The profits are so good that these companies will engage in these style of commerce. In fact, after reading this book, I was traveling in a certain area of the Denver city, and I was amazed at how many pawn shops, payday loan shops, and rent to own shops were in the area. It seemed that these types of businesses control every block. These loading businesses enslave people with heavy fees and outrageous rates. This book certainly opened my heart to the working poor in America.
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