Broke, USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc. — How the Working Poor Became Big Business
    • Broke, USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc. — How the Working Poor Became Big Business by Gary Rivlin (2010)

For most, the Great Crash of 2008 has meant troubling times. Not so for those in the flourishing poverty industry, for whom shrinking wages, pink slips, and other economic woes spell an opportunity to expand and grow. Over the years, any number of mercenary entrepreneurs have taken advantage of an era of deregulation to devise high priced products to sell to the credit-hungry ranks of the working poor, from the instant tax refund to the payday loan. In the process, they've created an industry larger than the casino business and proven that even the pawnbrokers and check cashers, if they dream big enough, can grow very, very rich off those with thin wallets. Looking back across three decades, Gary Rivlin uncovers how the poverty industry actually invented the predatory subprime loan in the 1980s — eventually inspiring the likes of Countrywide and Wells Fargo to repurpose these toxic products for the USA's middle class. As Rivlin's tale reveals, these large chains are not only making fat profits and contributing to our current financial crisis — they are at the heart of it.

Broke, USA is 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 neighbourhoods of Dayton, OH, it's a subprime Fast Food Nation featuring an unforgettable cast of characters and memorable scenes. As Wall Street and the White House struggle to save the economy from collapse, Rivlin travels across the country profiling players ranging from a former small-town Tennessee debt collector whose business offering cash advances to the country's working poor has earned him a net worth in the hundreds of millions, to legendary Wall Street dealmaker Sandy Weill, who rode a subprime loan business into control of the nation's largest bank. He parallels their stories with the tale of those committed souls fighting back against the major corporations, chain franchises, and newly hatched enterprises that are fleecing the country's hard-working 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 voice to the millions of ordinary Americans left devastated in its wake.

Praise for Broke, USA:

"A scathing, important book." — Joe Nocera, the New York Times

"[A] superb expose of the 'poverty business.'" — Publishers Weekly

"[A] blistering new investigation of the subprime economy." — James Surowiecki, the New Yorker

"Vital reading for those seeking to deepen their understanding of the economic crash." — Dan Scheraga, Associated Press

"Mr. Rivlin brings to his subject a genuine gift for storytelling." — Katherine Mangu-Ward, the Wall Street Journal

"Rivlin opens up, dissects, and eviscerates the gigantic  industry of vulture finance....fascinating." — Dan Okrent, Fortune

"Rivlin's book is a must-read. It's a riveting piece of work by a first-rate writer." — Don McNay, the Huffington Post




Tags: broke usa, financial reporting, investigative reporting, poverty

    • Gary Rivlin
    • Long-time journalist Gary Rivlin is an Investigative Fund Fellow at The Nation Institute. A former New York Times reporter, he is the author of five books, including Fire on the Prairie: Chicago's Harold Washington and the Politics of Race. That book that prompted the late Studs Terkel to compare him to I.F. S...

    • Gary Rivlin's full bio »