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: Hardship and Resilience in a City of Broken Promises (St. Martin’s Press, New York Times Editor’s Choice, Michigan Notable Book Award, Tillie Olsen Award, J. Anthony Lukas Prize shortlist, Kirkus starred review), 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. Even before the bankruptcy in 2013, they struggled with the larger ramifications of poor urban policies and negligence on the state and federal level—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. Broke 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.
Jodie Adams Kirshner is a Research Professor at the New York University Marron Institute of Urban Management. Broke: Hardship and Resilience in a City of Broken Promises, her narrative nonfiction book on the Detroit bankruptcy, funded by the Kresge Foundation, will be published by St. Martin's Press in November 2019. Her academic book International Bankruptcy Law: the Challenge of Insolvency in a Global Economy was published by the University of Chicago Press in May 2018.
Until 2014, Kirshner was a law professor at Cambridge University, where she also served as the deputy director of the Cambridge LL.M. program, the deputy director of the Cambridge Centre for Corporate and Commercial Law, and as a fellow of Peterhouse College, Cambridge. She has also served as a technical advisor to the Bank for International Settlements and as an independent consultant for financial funds investing in distressed debt.
Kirshner is an elected member of the American Law Institute and a senior research associate of the Cambridge Centre for Business Research. She is a fellow of the American Bar Foundation, the Salzburg Global Seminar, the Columbia Law School Center for Law and Economics, and the Center for Law Economics & Finance in Washington, and a former term member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Since returning to the U.S., she has taught international bankruptcy law at Columbia Law School.
Kirshner received her undergraduate degree from Harvard University and graduate degrees in law and in journalism from Columbia University. She studied as a Fulbright Scholar at Oxford University and completed funded postdocs at the London Business School and Max Planck Institute for Comparative and International Law in Hamburg, Germany.
She is currently writing a book on higher education debt and college finance, funded by the ECMC Foundation.