Interviews with about 100 families with children living without earnings or government cash assistance illuminate how very poor health, limited skills, and the lack of jobs, transportation and child care raise serious barriers to employment. They also illustrate how sanctions, time limits, and other administrative hassles can prevent welfare participation for many families without work. Interviewed families, all with incomes below 50 percent of poverty, coped by combining in-kind government support, child support, help from family or friends, "side jobs," and charity. Food stamps provided a base of support for about half of the families, but half of those not receiving food stamps had their benefits terminated for administrative reasons. The interviews demonstrate what families need in order to work and what they need when work cannot be achieved.