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September Reading: Broke, USA

September Reading: Broke, USA
Photo by Mirza Babic / Unsplash

Ah, mid-September. Fall is (theoretically) getting close, my daughter just turned seven and my birthday is right around the corner. I've been reading a fair bit this month amidst a fairly heavy school load and my normal home/work duties and responsibilities. The first book I started (and only that I've finished so far) is Gary Rivlin's Broke, USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc.: How the Working Poor Became Big Business. While not the most riveting or engrossing book I've ever read, it was interesting and worth at least a systematic read.

Broke, USA pairs well with Matthew Desmond's Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City as both deal with poverty and the systems in place that both take advantage of and perpetuate lower socioeconomic living.[1] Evicted focuses largely on housing and all things related whereas Broke, USA looks at all of the predatory lending platforms that sprung up and ravaged the poor and working poor starting it the 1990s. Things like payday loans, high-interest mortgage refinancing, etc. It's one of those books that is incredibly eye-opening and kind of makes you doubt the intrinsic humanity in a lot of people. The first 1/3 to 1/2 of the book was really good but I kind of faded and wound up skimming more as the subject matter became more about the politics and organizations and less about the people. That's not a knock against the book, more just personal preference.

To me, books like this have a lot of value beyond their face value. Sure, reading this book, you can learn more about some pretty corrupt systems, people, and politicians--as well as some good people dedicated to doing the right thing. But beyond that, you can learn something about yourself and how you live your life. I'm incredibly fortunate to have never had to even consider getting a payday loan or some crazy high-interest mortgage refinances, something I try really hard to stay cognizant of and not take for granted.

Sometimes, though, it's hard not to get stuck in your own existence. During the couple of weeks I was reading Broke, USA, we noticed a leak coming from our upstairs bathroom. What wound up being a busted gasket from an over-tightened pipe joint cost over $400, and that's not counting fixing the hole in my bedroom ceiling. This is enough to irritate just about anyone, but, having this happen while reading a book like Broke, USA, my perspective was different. Instead of gett (too) upset over it all, I was simply thankful that we had the money to fix the problem, that we didn't have to ignore it, we didn't have to get a cash advance riddled with giant fees. This kind of re-framing, this kind of gratitude, is something I've learned from reading books like this, priceless lessons that go so far beyond what the words on the page say. Read a book, adjust your perspective.


  1. Side note: if you pair these, start with Evicted, they're both good but, in my opinion, Evicted was a better read.↩︎