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Recent and Recommended Books to Better Understand the Unbanked

The Unbanking of America: How the New Middle Class Survives
By Lisa Servon

What do an undocumented immigrant in the South Bronx, a high-net-worth entrepreneur, and a 20-something graduate student have in common? All three are victims of our dysfunctional mainstream bank and credit system. Nearly half of all Americans live from paycheck to paycheck, and income volatility has doubled over the past thirty years. Banks, with their high monthly fees and overdraft charges, are gouging their lower- and middle-income customers while serving only the wealthiest Americans.

‘Lisa Servon delivers a stunning indictment of America’s banks, together with eye-opening dispatches from inside a range of banking alternatives that have sprung up to fill the void. She works as a teller at RiteCheck, a check-cashing business in the South Bronx, and as a payday lender in Oakland. She looks closely at the workings of a tanda, an informal lending club. And she delivers engaging, hopeful portraits of the entrepreneurs reacting to the unbanking of America by designing systems to creatively serve many of us.

How the Other Half Banks: Exclusion, Exploitation, and the Threat to Democracy
By Mehrsa Baradaran

The United States has two separate banking systems today—one serving the well-to-do and another exploiting everyone else. How the Other Half Banks contributes to the growing conversation on American inequality by highlighting one of its prime causes: unequal credit. Mehrsa Baradaran examines how a significant portion of the population, deserted by banks, is forced to wander through a Wild West of payday lenders and check-cashing services to cover emergency expenses and pay for necessities—all thanks to deregulation that began in the 1970s and continues decades later. “Baradaran argues persuasively that the banking industry, fattened on public subsidies (including too-big-to-fail bailouts), owes low-income families a better deal…How the Other Half Banks is well researched and clearly written…The bankers who fully understand the system are heavily invested in it. Books like this are written for the rest of us.” —Nancy Folbre, New York Times Book Review “How the Other Half Banks tells an important story, one in which we have allowed the profit motives of banks to trump the public interest.”

Financial Inclusion at the Bottom of the Pyramid
By Carol Realini, Karl Mehta

As incredible as it may seem in this hyper-connected, technologically advanced era, half the planet’s population exist as “Financial nomads”-those who nourish and shelter themselves without using traditional banking services. While the wealthy live at the top of a metaphorical pyramid, taking financial security and banking services for granted, there are billions of people who struggle at the pyramid’s base in an exhausting state of financial exclusion and insecurity.
Times are changing rapidly, but despite global uncertainty, technology has the capacity to reach and equip people in all walks of life. Advances in communications have reconfigured the ease with which we interact with our money-and these advances can provide innovative financial services to the unbanked and underserved around the world.

No Slack: The Financial Lives of Low-Income Americans
By Michael S. Barr

The financial crisis exposed the potentially unsavory results of the interaction between low- and moderate- income households and alternative and mainstream financial institutions. Many households were overleveraged or paid high costs for financial services, while others lacked access to useful financial products that can cushion against economic instability. The financial services system is not well designed to serve low- and moderate-income households, leaving them without financial slack: they did not have adequate breathing room for making the financial adjustments that would permit them to better meet their own needs. No Slack shows us why these families were the least prepared to handle the shock of the deep recession. This pivotal analysis focuses on the Detroit metropolitan area’s low- and moderate-income neighborhoods, which are similar to those of other Rust Belt communities. The Detroit Area Household Financial Services study—conducted at the height of the subprime lending boom—examines these households’ decision-making processes, behaviors, and attitudes toward a full range of financial transactions.

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