Broke, USA

From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc
How the Working Poor Became Big Business

  • Broke, USA
  • Praise
  • Reviews
  • Excerpts
  • Media Appearances
  • “[a] blistering new investigation of the subprime economy”
    — James Surowiecki, The New Yorker

    BROKE, USA is my report from the economic fringes. In the two years I spent researching the poverty industry, I ventured to Las Vegas to hang out at the annual check cashers convention, I spent time in Tennessee with the small-town debt collector who founded the modern-day, $40-billion-a-year payday cash advance industry, I met with mercenary entrepreneurs who are getting tens of millions of dollars rich selling high-priced products to the country’s hardworking waitresses, warehouse workers, and mall clerks.

    By telling the story of the rise of the poverty business – an industry that today is larger than the casino industry – I chronicle the early roots of the subprime meltdown and explore any number of diabolically brilliant ways businesses have devised to grow very, very rich off those with thin wallets. I also tell of a few of the more committed souls who for years had been sounding the alarm about a pending subprime disasters and fighting back against the major corporations, chain franchises, and newly-hatched enterprises that grow fat with profits at the expense of the working poor.

  • “[a] blistering new investigation of the subprime economy”

    James Surowiecki, The New Yorker

    “A scathing, important book”

    Joe Nocera, The New York Times

    “[a] superb expose of the ‘poverty business'”

    Publishers Weekly

    “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

    “A marvelous writer.”

    Janelle Brown,
  • The ClevelandDealer

    “Reading Broke, USA is enraging, but Rivlin’s work also is scrupulously fair… what makes Broke, USA so readable is Rivlin’s skill at telling a complex story through engaging characters.”

    Washington Post

    “I began to liken the entire Poverty, Inc. industry to those energy companies whose stripmining destroyed vast tracts of wilderness areas.”

    The Wall Street Journal

    “Mr. Rivlin brings to his subject a genuine gift for storytelling”

    Dan Okrent, CNN Money

    “Rivlin opens up, dissects, and eviscerates the gigantic industry of vulture finance…[a] fascinating book.”

    Publishers Weekly

    “A superb expose of the ‘poverty business’… timely, important, and deeply disturbing.”

    Don McNay, The Huffington Post

    “Rivlin’s book is a mustread. It’s a riveting piece of work by a firstrate writer.”

    Dan Scheraga, Associated Press

    “Painstakingly researched…Broke, USA is vital reading for those seeking to deepen their understanding of the economic crash of the past few years.”

    David Lidsky, Fast Company

    “Gary Rivlin rivets readers…[a] fascinating book. ”

    Booklist (starred review)

    “A powerful analysis…how the financial sector has come to its current state of crisis.”

    James Pressley, Bloomberg News

    “…thorough and thoughtful.evenhanded.eschews hyped language and lets the evidence speak for itself..should be required reading for elected officials.”

    Chuck Leddy, MinneapolisSt. Paul Star Tribune

    “…what investigative reporter Gary Rivlin does wonderfully well is relate these tragic tales while exploring how predatory lending works from the inside.”

  • Read the opening to Chapter Three

    The light bulb goes off: Allan Jones, the man who would go on to pioneer the modern-day payday industry, sees his future in a shabby shack in Johnson City, Tennessee.

    Read the opening to Chapter Fourteen

    I attended the 20th annual check cashers convention at the end of 2008, where I met Tim Thomas , a man delightfully frank about making it in the poverty business as the proprietor of Daddy’s Money Pawn Shop.

  • The New Yorker

    The New Yorker’s James Surowiecki dubs BROKE a “blistering new examination of the subprime economy”

    The New York Times

    The New York Times’s Joe Nocera quotes me several times in a column about the subprime fallout


    BROKE makes Bloomberg’s list of “favorite business books”

    Clarence Page

    Syndicated columnist Clarence Page uses BROKE in a piece taking on the payday lenders


    Columnist Ezra Klein writes about BROKE for both the Washington Post and Newsweek: dubs it a “necessary companion” to Michael Lewis’s The Big Short.

    US News & World Report

    A Q&A with Caitlin Huey-Burns in US News & World Report

    The Boston Globe

    The Boston Globe’s Steven Syre quotes me in a column about businesses thriving in a bum economy:

    On, a Q&A with author and journalist Joan Quigley

    Columbia Journalism Review

    The Columbia Journalism Review’s website plugs a piece I wrote about the poverty industry for the Huffington Post

    Fresh Air with Terry Gross

    Terry Gross and I talk pawnbrokers, payday lenders, and the sleazier side of subprime mortgages on NPR’s “Fresh Air” (35 mins)


    Me and Kai Ryssdal talk about how the working poor became big business (my segment starts at the 11:54 mark)

    The Leonard Lopate Show

    I’m treated to an hour on the radio with WNYC’s Leonard Lopate (1 hour)


    KQED’s Michael Krasny (1 hour)

    Dyson Show

    I speak with Michael Eric Dyson for the new show he is hosting on NPR (15 mins)

    Behind the News

    Doug Henwood has me on “Behind the News,” the weekly show he hosts on the Pacifica network (20 mins.)

    Economic Matters

    I speak with Hopeton Hay of in Austin (25 mins)

    I had a chance to talk on a number of local NPR affiliates across the country, from Los Angeles to New Hampshire, from Dallas and Houston to Wisconsin. I was on KPFA in San Francisco and KPFC in LA on the Pacifica network—twice. I spoke with Michael Ray Dresser for his show, “Dresser After Dark” and Gary Goldberg for “Money Matters.” I spent an hour talking with Jim Bohanon for “The Jim Bohanon Show” on the CBS radio network. I appeared on Bloomberg Radio’s Hay’s Advantage and The Insana Quotient, a nationally syndicated business talk radio show. I was on the “Lanigan & Malone Morning Show” on WMJI in Cleveland, Ohio and on KOPJ-AM in Portland, OR. The writer Ira Wood interviewed me on WOMR in Cape Cod.

    PBS NewsHour

    Speaking with Hari Sreenivasan about the poverty industry

    Democracy Now: July 9, 2010

    With Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez


    With Vishesh Kumar – a nice intro to the book (13 mins.)

    CSPAN’s After Words

    Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, interviews me about BROKE

    Sins of Omission

    I talk with Paulie Abeles – and end up a listener’s pick on BlogTalkRadio (1 hour)

    Working Radio

    A very entertaining, informal talk with radio reporter Larry Olson on his podcast.

    The Bat Segundo Show

    Bat Segundo shows up at a café with his mobile recording studio and we talk the poverty biz

    This is Hell!

    Talking with Chuck Mertz