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Hardship and Resilience in a City of Broken Promises

Jodie Adams Kirshner; foreword by Michael Eric Dyson

St. Martin's Press

Broke Download image

ISBN10: 1250220637
ISBN13: 9781250220639


368 Pages



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Winner of the Tillie Olsen Award
Shortlisted for the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize

Bankruptcy and the austerity it represents have become a common "solution" for struggling American cities. What do the spending cuts and limited resources do to the lives of city residents? In Broke, Jodie Adams Kirshner follows seven Detroiters as they navigate life during and after their city's bankruptcy. Reggie loses his savings trying to make a habitable home for his family. Cindy fights drug use, prostitution, and dumping on her block. Lola commutes two hours a day to her suburban job. For them, financial issues are mired within the larger ramifications of poor urban policies, restorative negligence on the state and federal level and—even before the decision to declare Detroit bankrupt in 2013—the root causes of a city’s fiscal demise.

Like Matthew Desmond’s Evicted, Broke looks at what municipal distress means, not just on paper but in practical—and personal—terms. More than 40 percent of Detroit’s 700,000 residents fall below the poverty line. Post-bankruptcy, they struggle with a broken real estate market, school system, and job market—and their lives have not improved.

Detroit is emblematic. Kirshner makes a powerful argument that cities—the economic engine of America—are never quite given the aid that they need by either the state or federal government for their residents to survive, not to mention flourish. Success for all America’s citizens depends on equity of opportunity.


Praise for Broke

"Essential . . . in showcasing people who are persistent, clever, flawed, loving, struggling and full of contradictions, Broke affirms why it’s worth solving the hardest problems in our most challenging cities in the first place."—Anna Clark, The New York Times

"Through in-depth reporting of structural inequality as it affects real people in Detroit, Jodie Adams Kirshner's Broke examines one side of the economic divide in America."—Salon

"[A] rich, full, and a powerful answer to anyone who believes that austerity and job cuts are a necessary path to prosperity. At turns, heartbreaking, enraging and inspiring, Broke gives us close-up, vivid, portraits of real people."Andrew Cockburn, Washington Editor, Harper's Magazine

"What Broke really tells us is how systems of government, law and finance can crush even the hardiest of boot-strap pullers."—Brian Alexander, author of Glass House

"Kirshner’s humane focus on individual stories illuminates underreported problems with housing, employment, and transportation."—Library Journal

Reviews from Goodreads

About the author

Jodie Adams Kirshner; foreword by Michael Eric Dyson

Jodie Adams Kirshner is a research professor at New York University. Previously on the law faculty at Cambridge University, she also teaches bankruptcy law at Columbia Law School. She is a member of the American Law Institute, past term member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and technical advisor to the Bank for International Settlements. She received a prestigious multi-year grant from the Kresge Foundation to research this book.

Nora Canfield

Jodie Adams Kirshner