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Broke, USA    by Gary Rivlin order for
Broke, USA
by Gary Rivlin
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Harper, 2010 (2010)

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* *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

As the economy limps towards recovery after a devastating downturn, Gary Rivlin investigates some of the reasons we got ourselves into this mess in the first place.

Although the Great Crash of 2008 created problems for millions of households, not everyone suffered. Having taken advantage of an era of deregulation that preceded the recession, a group of mercenary entrepreneurs devised high-cost products to attract the credit hungry working poor. From instant tax refunds and payday loans to no money down, sub-prime loans, these individuals created a lucrative poverty industry that netted them millions of dollars.

Taking the reader from the annual meeting of the national check cashers' association to a tour of foreclosure-riddled neighborhoods in Ohio, the author introduces a cast of fascinating characters. This montage of those who were taken as well as those who did the taking includes debt collectors, Wall Street dealmakers, individuals who lost their homes and a score of others who were part of the whole sorry financial mess.

It is one thing to read about foreclosures in the newspaper or watch short segments on television newscasts headlining the dire statistics but quite another to have the situation fleshed out in detail using real people. When you read about how these situations occurred and how these individuals were fleeced, the scope and immediacy of the dilemma becomes less of an abstraction.

In a sense, this is a very disturbing look at a sector of the economy that has targeted those who can't really protect themselves. Already dubbed the subprime Fast Food Nation, this comprehensive book hopefully will pique the nation's conscience and create enough of a stir that safeguards will be put in place to keep some of these predatory practices and abuses from occurring again.

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