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

3.69 of 5 stars 3.69  ·  rating details  ·  524 ratings  ·  97 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
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,
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
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
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
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 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Everyone who cares about the future of our countryl
Shelves: 2011, nonfiction
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
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
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
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
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.
Joe Maristela
May be a bit much, but you can chase the book with Michael Moore's film, Capitalism.
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
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
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
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
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 3 of 5 stars
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
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
Jul 04, 2011 Skylar Burris marked it as sampled-abandoned
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
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
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
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 4 of 5 stars
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 3 of 5 stars
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
Kathleen Gilroy
This is one of the better books I've read on the financial crisis. While the others have focused mainly on Wall Street, Broke USA looks at "sub-par" main street: the industry that has sprung up to profit/prey on the working class poor who need credit but who don't have access to the banking system or credit cards. I was amazed at the size of the payday loan business and the stratospheric rates that are charged (APRs of almost 400%). The tax refund loans are equally predatory. Many poor people de ...more
Heather Denkmire
Before reading this book I never thought much about the Liberty Tax store around the corner from my house, or the fancy Money Store type of place over by the mall. This definitely opened my eyes to the ways businesses take advantage of people without many other options, or people who don't realize they have other options.

The only criticism I have of the book is that it frequently relies on the outrageous profits the businesses pull in. As a progressive, I understand the point is that if there ar
This is a very well-written book that documents the growth of poverty industries (check cashing, pawnshops, payday advances, tax refund loans, subprime loans/mortgages, etc). It is centered around interviews that the author has with different participants in this industry, both owners of these business establishments and the officials & activists who oppose them. Rivlin excels at presenting both sides of these issues and allowing the reader to form their own conclusions about what each perso ...more
Carly Thompson
An excellent examination of the Poverty Inc. industry and predatory lending practices that target the poor. Rivlin is a former journalist who writes in an engaging manner and makes financial information easy to understand. From interviews with Allan Jones, founder of Check Into Cash, to working class people who lost their homes due to refinancing at ridiculously high interest rates, Rivlin gives a well rounded look at the people involved in the poverty industry. I never knew how profitable Check ...more
Interesting to read about the players in the poverty game and to see the growth of these businesses from inception to what they have become. The research focused on check cashing outfits, pawn stores, payday loans and the sub-prime mortgage lenders. Very instructive to hear the many justifications for how and why they do business despite the obvious harm these companies brings to poor communities and increasingly middle-class enclaves.

The industry that has grown up around these businesses is ap
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