An urgent and incisive exposé of our broken banking system--why Americans are fleeing traditional banks in growing numbers. 

What do an undocumented immigrant in the South Bronx, a high-net-worth entrepreneur, and a twenty-something graduate student have in common? All three are victims of our dysfunctional mainstream bank and credit system. The Unbanking of America exposes the ways in which banks have quietly abandoned lower- and middle-class consumers in favor of servicing only the wealthiest. Today nearly half of all Americans live paycheck to paycheck, as income volatility has doubled over the past thirty years. Banks, with their monthly fees and high overdraft charges, take advantage of these fluctuations rather than help their customers manage them. 

Lisa Servon delivers provocative dispatches from inside a range of banking alternatives--from predatory to responsible--as new players rush in to do what banks once did. She works as a teller at RiteCheck, a check-cashing business in the South Bronx, and as a payday lender in Oakland, California, listening to the stories of the alternative bankers as well as their consumers. And she delivers fascinating, hopeful portraits of the entrepreneurs who are counting on a permanent "unbanking" of America--and designing systems to transform how nonwealthy Americans can gain the access and agency to their own money that they, especially, need.


"Microenterprise development programs have proliferated in the 1990s. As Servon brilliantly guides us through the complexities of assistance programs, the deeper issue--what works for whom--becomes clear. This pathbreaking study explains both the limitations of microenterprise and its important potential for helping many Americans to cope more successfully in today's dynamic economy." 
-- Tim Bates, Wayne State University

Lisa Servon's book is, simply, the best available analysis of urban poverty policies in the network society, our society. It is based on rigorous academic research, and geared toward innovative policymaking. It is an invaluable tool for both government officials and citizens concerned with the persistence of urban poverty in the midst of economic growth" 
-- Manuel Castells, University of Southern California. 

The microenterprise strategy -- helping people start small businesses -- has generated attention among policymakers and the media as a way to create jobs and help lift people out of poverty. Through extensive interviews and case studies of five diverse microenterprise programs in different U.S. regions, Lisa J. Servon examines the potential and limits of these programs. In the late 1980s, the microenterprise strategy came to the United States from less-developed countries such as Bangladesh, where the Grameen Bank flourishes. Since then over 200 programs have opened their doors in nearly every state. This book identifies the current discourse on microenterprises, discusses how this approach represents a departure from traditional economic development and social welfare strategies, and examines the wide range of results. Boot strap Capital tells the story of both the programs and the people who use them. One program, Women's Initiative, targets very low income women in the San Francisco Bay Area and requires all clients to undergo three months of training before they can apply for a loan. Some of the participants are true entrepreneurs; others pursue self-employment because the mainstream economy has failed them. Servon finds that microenterprise programs combat the problem of persistent poverty by serving a broad socioeconomic group and by focusing on the goals of empowerment, economic literacy, and community organization. She shows that microenterprise programs do more to help those who exist at the margins of the mainstream economy than those who are completely cut off from it. She calls for a rethinking of expectations for this strategy, based on the experience of programs and entrepreneurs in this country. This book provides the basis for reframing policy support for these programs.




"Bridging the Digital Divide makes it clear that the digital divide is only one symptom of persistent poverty -- a problem that touches us all. Fortunately, this is a case in which treating the symptom may help cure the disease. Servon's book shows us that programs aimed at closing the divide are creating pathways out of poverty for many low-income technology users, who are acquiring career skills, educational advantages, and new knowledge that can lead to living-wage jobs." 
-- Laura Breeden, Director, America Connects Consortium

Bridging the Digital Divide investigates problems of unequal access to information technology. The author redefines this problem, examines its severity, and lays out what the future implications might be if the digital divide continues to exist. This is also the first book to assess empirically the policies in the United States designed to address the social problems arising from the digital divide. It analyzes policies at both federal and local level, as well as looking at the success of community- based initiatives. The analysis is supported by empirical data resulting from extensive fieldwork in several US cities. The book concludes with the author's recommendations for future public policy on the digital divide.