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Williamson Road is a sprawling commercial strip that slices through the working-class neighborhoods of my hometown, Roanoke, Va., a city of 96,000 nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s like many streets in urban centers or blue-collar suburbs: Amid the convenience and secondhand stores are merchants who offer credit and financial services to consumers who are mostly squeezed out of the mainstream banking system. In many cases, those mainstream companies profit from the businesses that charge much higher rates.

These businesses offer people who have bad credit, no credit, or little money a way to get the goods and services they need and want. But the prices they pay can be painful: 120 percent annual interest on pawnshop loans . . . 30 percent on persoal loans from finance companies . . . weekly or monthly rent-to-own payments that equal finance rates of 100 percent or more. Paying $29 for a quick tax refund or $20 to cash a paycheck may not sound like much, but it all adds up.

“You pay double–I know that,” says a woman who has been a customer at a couple of Williamson Road’s rent-to-own stores. “But if you want nice things, where are you going to go if you can’t get credit?”

SOME “SHOP ‘TIL YOU DROP” SPOTS ON WILLIAMSON ROAD

They are part of the credit economy for people who can’t pay in cash.

3302 NW Credit Tire and Audio
Buy your tires and car stereo on credit. Next door at Bankers’ Optical, you can get your eyeglasses the same way.
3733 NW Mr. Car Man
Rent-to-own cars. Transmission jobs on credit.
3806 NW Town and Country Pawn Shop
Charges 120 percent annual interest on small loans.
4517 NW Prime Time Rentals
This rent-to-own chain offers high-interest “Fast Tax” loans.
6431 NW Avco Financial Services
One of the nation’s 20 biggest consumer finance companies.
7222 NW Beneficial Finance
An outlet for one of the nation’s largest consumer loan companies. See Hall of Shame.

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Like another story about Mother Jones’ real-world impact.

This one, a multiyear investigation, published in 2021, exposed conditions in sugar work camps in the Dominican Republic owned by Central Romana—the conglomerate behind brands like C&H and Domino, whose product ends up in our Hershey bars and other sweets. A year ago, the Biden administration banned sugar imports from Central Romana. And just recently, we learned of a previously undisclosed investigation from the Department of Homeland Security, looking into working conditions at Central Romana. How big of a deal is this?

“This could be the first time a corporation would be held criminally liable for forced labor in their own supply chains,” according to a retired special agent we talked to.

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And it is only because Mother Jones is funded primarily by donations from readers that we can mount ambitious, yearlong—or more—investigations like these two stories that are making waves.

About that: It’s unfathomably hard in the news business right now, and we came up about $28,000 short during our recent fall fundraising campaign. We simply have to make that up soon to avoid falling further behind than can be made up for, or needing to somehow trim $1 million from our budget, like happened last year.

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WHO DOESN’T LOVE A POSITIVE STORY—OR TWO?

“Great journalism really does make a difference in this world: it can even save kids.”

That’s what a civil rights lawyer wrote to Julia Lurie, the day after her major investigation into a psychiatric hospital chain that uses foster children as “cash cows” published, letting her know he was using her findings that same day in a hearing to keep a child out of one of the facilities we investigated.

That’s awesome. As is the fact that Julia, who spent a full year reporting this challenging story, promptly heard from a Senate committee that will use her work in their own investigation of Universal Health Services. There’s no doubt her revelations will continue to have a big impact in the months and years to come.

Like another story about Mother Jones’ real-world impact.

This one, a multiyear investigation, published in 2021, exposed conditions in sugar work camps in the Dominican Republic owned by Central Romana—the conglomerate behind brands like C&H and Domino, whose product ends up in our Hershey bars and other sweets. A year ago, the Biden administration banned sugar imports from Central Romana. And just recently, we learned of a previously undisclosed investigation from the Department of Homeland Security, looking into working conditions at Central Romana. How big of a deal is this?

“This could be the first time a corporation would be held criminally liable for forced labor in their own supply chains,” according to a retired special agent we talked to.

Wow.

And it is only because Mother Jones is funded primarily by donations from readers that we can mount ambitious, yearlong—or more—investigations like these two stories that are making waves.

About that: It’s unfathomably hard in the news business right now, and we came up about $28,000 short during our recent fall fundraising campaign. We simply have to make that up soon to avoid falling further behind than can be made up for, or needing to somehow trim $1 million from our budget, like happened last year.

If you can, please support the reporting you get from Mother Jones—that exists to make a difference, not a profit—with a donation of any amount today. We need more donations than normal to come in from this specific blurb to help close our funding gap before it gets any bigger.

payment methods

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