An absorbing, solidly documented study of America's welfare system and the circumstances of five women and their children who are dependent upon it. Berrick (director of the Center for Research on Public Social Services at the School of Social Welfare at the University of California at Berkeley) focuses on five diverse families in her attempt to dispel stereotypical myths of welfare mothers. Too many Americans, contends Berrick, perceive welfare recipients as lazy, irresponsible, and conniving. Budget-cutting politicians, moreover, are quick to offer simple economic solutions to complex social problems. Three of the women portrayed here have temporarily fallen through the cracks and need some assistance to get back on their feet. The other two, products of highly unstable backgrounds, are not likely to walk even with society's crutches. Berrick is clearly sympathetic to the full range of her subjects. She argues that ""none of the women depicted here wanted to be on welfare, and few of them expected to use it for a long time."" Long-term welfare users, comprised mainly of high school dropouts and women of color, are the exception rather than the rule. Berrick's statistics illustrate how welfare alone does not lift a family above the poverty level, and she elucidates how the system encourages mothers to cheat in order to make ends meet. The author feels that many condescending welfare officials also evoke hostility, and she is extremely critical of welfare workers, whom she describes as ""notoriously rude and unhelpful."" One theme that emerges, though not addressed by Berrick, is these women's poor choices of mates--men who are mostly irresponsible and abusive alcoholics or drug addicts. A passionate, perceptive assessment of a complex and timely issue.