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

3.68  ·  Rating Details  ·  631 Ratings  ·  110 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 a ...more
Hardcover, 358 pages
Published June 8th 2010 by HarperBusiness (first published May 25th 2010)
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Will Byrnes
Oct 22, 2014 Will Byrnes rated it it was amazing
Rivlin has pulled together a lot on information on several types of enterprises that exist to exploit the poor people of our country. Although pawnshops are noted in the sub-head, they receive little attention. Of far greater concern here are check cashing stores, (tax) Return Anticipation Loans, or RALs, rent-to-buy shops and predatory sub-prime lending. It is quite clear that small loans make huge profits. You will be shocked when you learn what actual APRs are being charged.

I was not unaware,
Aug 03, 2010 Stephany rated it really liked it
I don't know why I can't stop reading books about the financial meltdown, but I can't. This one, though, is much richer and really gets going in the late 1980s. The historical depth is refreshing, and the author's style keeps it engaging. The history of legislative efforts to place interest rate caps on payday loans, for example, is comprised of statistics on rates, defaults, and testimony, but also extensive interviews with a few people who were heavily involved on both sides of an issue or bat ...more
Miriam Rozian
Dec 14, 2011 Miriam Rozian rated it really liked it
Given the plethora of books with lofty top-down stories about the 2007 - 2008 financial crash, this book comes as a welcome reality check. It's a ripping yarn of greed, injustice, debt slavery, white knights and dark knaves... without, so far, a happy ending.

Rather than focusing on the glamorous boardroom battles of the 0.001%, it dwells on the financial affairs of the bottom 75% - those who meet some or all of the following criteria:
wages have fallen;
make less than the median income;
have poor
Ann Litz
Apr 03, 2016 Ann Litz rated it liked it
This book is a compelling account of the subprime mortgage lenders, payday-advance outfits, check-cashers, rapid-refund tax preparers and other multibillion-dollar industries that comprise what the author calls “Poverty, Inc.” (which would have been a more fitting title).

But Broke, USA doesn't really offer any governmental, social or economic solutions to the dilemma of what an "unbanked" (because there are often no "real" banks in low-income neighborhoods) working-class person should do when,
Oct 25, 2010 Emily rated it liked it
The info in this book deserve 4 stars, but my oh my it was such a dry read that I had to give it 3 stars. It would have been juicier if the stories ahd been about the people caught in the web of sub-prime and pay-day lending, but it was mostly about the actual industries.

The people who run these businesses to "serve" poor and low income argue that they are providing services that no one else will. And yes, they sure do. They provide quick, short term loans that sometimes go to feed a family or p
Tie Kim
Jan 24, 2011 Tie Kim rated it liked it
The book didn't change the general disdain I already had for those engaged in predatory lending (e.g. payday loans, refund anticipation loans). However, this knowledgeable book provides readers with numerous facts to support their positions rather than relying on emotions. For example, a $100 payday loan that carries a surcharge of $15 over a 2-week duration is equivalent to an APR of 391%. And though there may be some merit in the lenders' argument that payday loans help the working people who ...more
Mar 16, 2011 Siobhan rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Everyone who cares about the future of our countryl
Shelves: nonfiction, 2011
If the information in this book had been available earlier, the economic mess of the past few years could well have been avoided.

That's one lesson from this book. Another is that while rich people have been gorging on an ever larger share of the pie, they have been doing so not merely by cutting wages, shipping jobs overseas and making sure their taxes reach ever lower levels. They've also acheived their goals by making money off the poor through loan sharking in a variety of forms.

Gary Rivlin b
Aug 10, 2010 Desiree rated it it was amazing
Timely book on more ways to get rich by screwing the poor! Excellent review of the people behind the pawnshops, check cashing and payday loan industries. We used to have usury laws, but these industries have been able to get around them and charge unbelievably high apr rates on short term loans! How's 391% sound to ya?????

The perfect customer for a subprime lender "would be an uneducated woman who is living on a fixed income - hopefully from her deceased husband's pension and Social Security - w
Apr 01, 2015 Sally rated it it was amazing
For years we've been hearing about the welfare queen and all the reasons why poor people just need to "pull themselves up by their bootstraps. This compelling book explains (in part) why we need poor people. Because without the poor who would these businesses exploit.

Important reading
Dec 26, 2014 Dave rated it liked it
It is not unethical to make a profit lending money to low-income citizens and it is very practical to charge them a higher interest rate to offset the larger chance of default, but it is most definitely unethical and quite possibly criminal to charge 391% interest and to actively attempt to obtain a default so that the lending entity can seize a property after draining its equity.

Rivlin covers Poverty, Inc. - check-cashing places attempting to grow their share of wallet by getting their custome
Dec 02, 2014 Heidi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting. I found the in-depth information about subprime lending the most engaging, particularly the story of Martin Eaks, Self Help Credit Union and the Center for Responsible Lending. I'd never really thought about payday loans and pawn shops as a form of lending, and particularly of it being subprime lending, and that was another important perspective. I had also never really thought of the positives of subprime lending(which this book doesn't really endorse, except for in the case of a f ...more
Feb 08, 2014 Kathleen rated it liked it
Gary Rivlin has written an interesting book about poverty and the businesses that have arisen to feed on it. He tells compelling stories, and he profiles the people who own and run these businesses (in addition to those who have suffered) in a sympathetic way. He seems to intuitively recognize that the issue is complicated.
Emmy Gregory
Jun 24, 2015 Emmy Gregory rated it liked it
This isn't the book I was expecting. I was expecting a book about the systems poor people use to keep themselves going and how they are exploited by those systems and the effect it has on them. Ultimately, though, it's a rather dry book featuring the history of a dull man who opened a chain of pawn shops, followed by a brief history of another dull man who opened a chain of payday loan shops, followed by some more dull people who got angry about what the first two were doing, dull laws, dull con ...more
Joe Maristela
May be a bit much, but you can chase the book with Michael Moore's film, Capitalism.
Dec 02, 2014 Joy rated it it was amazing
I read this book in bits and pieces, as it's a lot to take in all at once. The author covers the rise of the poverty business as big profits for large banks, as well as the related rise of the subprime lending market and resulting crash that destroyed billions of dollars of wealth, mostly from the lower economic classes. It's a sickening story, and one that shows that regulation is indeed needed to rein in the horrors that unscrupulous and predatory bankers can cause.

I had always known about Ren
Jan 16, 2016 V rated it liked it
To be fair, I did not complete this book. As noted by other reviewers, it was repetitive and I felt like I got a very in depth and broad picture of what is going on with the working poor in this country from a little more than half of the chapters. In the North, our pawn shops and check cashing services are rather well hidden but when we travel to the South, I often remark that these places are everywhere in plain view. I also thought the chapters on the sub prime mortgage industry were enlighte ...more
Apr 27, 2015 Terri rated it it was ok
I really wanted to read this book and I really wanted to like this book, but I just couldn't get through it. This book reads like either a federal indictment or a hit list - here are all the main players, by name and their known associates, their friends, their business partners, their family members, etc. Every sentence is so densely packed with names it's impossible to keep the people straight - is this a crook or a victim that we're talking about? I can't remember who is who. The story doesn' ...more
Aug 30, 2010 Toni rated it really liked it
Shelves: sociology
Unfortunately, I had to return this book to work before I could finish it, but I really liked it. The subtitle sums up everything. All of the businesses that rise up where poor people congregate: check-cashing stores, title loans, pawnshops, rent-to-own furniture stores, etc., are discussed. And, yes, for those of us who haven't had to use these services (yet), it seems like these places are designed to take advantage of the people who patronize them. But this book gives you the other side of th ...more
May 25, 2011 Jay rated it liked it
Shelves: business, audiobook
I worked my way through this book - it took some doing. Not because it was a difficult read, but because it covers the way people enslave themselves for cash - a difficult subject. It walks through payday loans, instant tax rebates, pawn shops, subprime mortgages, and more, but the stories behind these different financial instruments common in poor areas are very similar, and the sheer number of unbelievably high interest rates quoted in this book, especially in the later chapters, is overwhelmi ...more
May 04, 2011 Janet rated it really liked it
I got caught in the subprime mortgage trap not once, but twice. In 1980, Savings & Loans were deregulated, so they could act like banks but didn't have to follow the same rules. Did we learn from that? Apparently not, since the mortgage industry was deregulated in 1998. Some of the same people who got rich in the S&L schemes went directly into the mortgage industry. I can say I don't feel as stupid as I used to for being taken in, because it was pretty clear that the strategies used are ...more
Sep 10, 2010 Robert rated it really liked it
Disturbing account of the explosive growth in the last decade of the "poverty industry" - that is, of the large class of businesses that provide "financial services" to the "unbanked", those without credit cards, the people with marginal means - businesses that found incredible riches simply by grinding down the poor, harvesting what little money they had by filling cities and towns with chains of "Rent-to-Own" stores - filling the strip malls with those "financial service" storefronts, the "Pay ...more
Mar 20, 2012 Trena rated it liked it
Recommended to Trena by: Washington Post
Rivlin provides some mind-blowing statistics on the economic size of Poverty, Inc.--the collective payday lenders, check cashers, rent-to-own stores, sub-prime mortgage lenders, auto title holders, refund anticipation loan tax preparers, and pawn brokers of the world--comparing the size of the industry to the movie industry (dwarfs) and the liquor industry (exceeds). It is eye opening.

The book covers in-depth the invention and spread of payday lending, the fight against sub-prime mortgage lendin
Marcin Wrona
May 21, 2011 Marcin Wrona rated it liked it
Broke, USA is a fairly exhaustive - and sometimes exhausting - look at the industry of poverty in the US. It's primarily concerned with subprime mortgages and payday loans, though other institutions pop in to make an appearance now and again - pawn shops, loans against tax refunds, etc.

The book is written in standard feature journalese - here's a human interest, here are some responses to interview questions, let's go meet the people our focus is badmouthing - and some of the featured industry p
Skylar Burris
Mar 13, 2015 Skylar Burris marked it as unfinished
I think I get the picture from the sample. Predatory lending (i.e. getting financially ignorant and generally already indebted people to sign bad-idea loans) is not nice and not good for our nation, and we need government intervention to stop it. (Just not the same kind of government intervention that encouraged so mamy people to get in over their heads in the first place, I guess...)

It looks like the book is going to be heavy on anecdotes that perhaps do not tell us the entire story and may se
Alkek Library
Jan 07, 2013 Alkek Library rated it it was amazing
Shelves: economics
Broke USA: How the Working Poor Became Big Business chronicles the recent rise of predatory lending institutions such as payday loan stores, check cashing outfits and the misleading mortgage. Downwardly mobile people using these product find themselves trapped with unpayable debt and the sudden loss of equity in their homes.

Very often, these businesses spring up near economically distressed populations: rustbelt communities with high unemployment, rural communities left behind in the global econ
Charles Allan
Jan 15, 2013 Charles Allan rated it it was amazing
Shelves: economics
Broke USA: How the Working Poor Became Big Business chronicles the recent rise of predatory lending institutions such as payday loan stores, check cashing outfits and the misleading mortgage. Downwardly mobile people using these product find themselves trapped with unpayable debt and the sudden loss of equity in their homes.

Very often, these businesses spring up near economically distressed populations: rustbelt communities with high unemployment, rural communities left behind in the global econ
Debra Daniels-zeller
Payday loans, rent-to-own centers and pawn shops in working poor neighborhoods,built to exploit the working class is the focus of this well-researched book. It's a compelling subject in the aftermath of Wall Street crash, the credit default swaps and the housing crisis. This is a depressing book and a thorough account of how the working poor are exploited in this country. One of the shocking realizations for me was the number of people who are beyond the regular banking system and are forced to ...more
Jan 06, 2011 Libby rated it it was amazing
Really well put-together exploration of characters and issues. Love that there is attention to policy, organizing strategies, personal motives and trends over decades.

Broke USA p. 58
"Brennan's message remained consistent throughout: The Fed must aggressively crack down on lending that bears no relation to a borrower's ability to repay."

A light bulb just went off. Public regulation, legislation without fiscal notes, means saying "that's not allowed." What I can do in the private sector - whether
Dec 30, 2011 Du rated it really liked it
Shelves: planning
So this is a book that we all need to read, but what a downer. It is a well written and intensly researched, but it is so depressing. The topic of subprime mortgages and check cashing and payday loans should be required reading for those that want to ensure we don't hit the same financial times we are exiting. The financial calamities of the previous decade have been written about quite a few times, but this take offers the perspective of those that have been hit hardest, the people who earn 25 ...more
Oct 25, 2012 Angel rated it liked it
Recommends it for: readers interested in poverty issues, financial meltdown 2008 information
I did like this book, but I am not rating it higher because, well, "I liked it" but I did not "really like it." It is not because the book is bad. Far from it. If a list is ever compiled of the books that must be read to understand the 2008 financial meltdown, this book has to be among the top two or three. Also, the book is required reading to understand why the poverty industry-- those who profit from the plight of the poor-- are thriving in the United States. So, why only rate it "three stars ...more
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