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Broke, USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc.—How the Working Poor Became Big Business Paperback – June 7, 2011
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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
*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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
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!
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.
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. And guess what, it is all legal. Aint America grand. Do in a bunch of barely making it poor people and become a multi millionaire. Oh yes and the book names names.
Well written, though I fear some will come along and say that "hey no excuse for being so stupid to get involved with such CON ARTISTS in the first place." Yes I think Bernie Madoff thought the same thing.
For an informative look at the seedy side of capitalism pick up a copy of a book which should be apart of every high school economics class.