62. Broke, USA

From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc. – How the Working Poor Became Big Business
by Gary Rivlin

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 the story as well, interviewing the proprietors and managers who aren’t always the greedy boogiemen we’ve made them out to be. One of the men said that you can think what you want about those places, but after working in other industries where people were not so nice, the customers of his check-cashing store are always happy to see him and leave smiling. I can’t say that of the retail store where I work.

There is also quite a bit of coverage of the sub-prime mortgage industry and how it became so prevalent.  Most interesting were the stories of the people who noticed it happening first and have been working tirelessly for the last 15 years as whistleblowers and lobbying Congress to gain attention to this catastrophe.  The Atlanta connection was really strong in these chapters as well.

Highly recommend it.

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