Rivlin, Gary. Broke, USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc.: How the Working Poor became big business. New York; HarperCollins, 2010.
Though not about Ohio, much of Broke, USA‘s stories are about Ohio. In Rivlin’s expose on the numerous businesses he terms the poverty industry (payday loans, rent-to-own, subprime mortgages, income tax return advancements, to the old-fashioned pawn brokers), he travels all over Ohio with extended stays in Dayton, Columbus, and Mansfield (along with other non-Ohio places). I do not want to give away the ending, but Rivlin is not pro-poverty industry. As James Baldwin is quoted, “Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor.” Those making the money on the poor do not come across well.
There is a lot to be depressed about in Broke, USA. But, looking beyond the individual stories, there is the landscape of Ohio that has formed around the industry. In Cleveland (not covered much in this book), every old business intersection or strip-mall in the city is full of these businesses. You kind of know that things will never get better (this does not even account for residential neighborhoods that took a hit from subprime/predatory lending). From my experience, it is the pretty much the same story in all central cities and inner-ring suburbs. From reading Broke, USA, you learn that there is science to locating these businesses. Nothing happens by chance.
Though this book may be a kick in the shins, there are some nuggets of knowledge for the Ohio reader. Rivlin has a great overview of the Issue 5 (remember to vote No for Yes or Yes for No) referendum from 2008, which was an attempt by payday lenders to overturn state legislation capping interest rates. (In the end, even in defeat, payday-lending lives on in Ohio). Broke, USA does a thorough job of tying this referendum in with the previous 20-years of the industry along with state and federal action/inaction. Also, the individual stories of Ohio activists such as Bill Faith, of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio (COHHIO) and Dayton City Commissioner Dean Lovelace are worth reading.
And finally, the book ends with a detailed analysis of what Dayton is like today (or when the author wrote the book in 2008). As Broke, USA is intended as a national publication, much of stories are place less (they could happen anywhere), but the last chapter, ‘Dayton after Dark’, looks at specific neighborhoods. Not good news, but chronicling Ohio’s story.
If you don’t want to take the time to read the book, or on the fence, I would also recommend listening to the author’s October 29th discussion at the City Club of Cleveland.
For those who want to relive Issue 5, do check out this article.
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