Through stories, interviews, pictures and financial records, I narrate the workings of the rent-to-own company I work for. It capitalizes on the American culture of conspicuous consumption to target the poorest workers, gouge them with usurious contracts, overextend their credit, “trip” them up with fees and ultimately deliver poverty to the poor. Over two years on the job, I developed extensive field notes, performed qualitative interviews with management, analyzed a year’s worth of financial data, and therein could bring new details to the intimate process that make the poor poorer. Working there made me realize that basic American household goods not only come with a much higher price tag for the poorest, but that the way we provision these to the poor undermines these communities by extracting wealth into richer areas and leaving poor residents saddled with unmanageable debt. By offering free delivery, free installation, no credit check, and low to no upfront cost, unsustainable payment plans become attractive to those most destitute. In-store sales practices filter for the most vulnerable people, such as management literally telling people to go elsewhere if they can afford to. The owner leverages the status of the corporation to attain cheap credit, brokering goods at much higher rates to target poverty-stricken workers. I found that the profit structure of this business often creates, and is reliant upon, a rent-confiscation cycle that deepens economic inequality.

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Faculty Mentor

Dr. Arthur Scarritt