Women, children and poverty. Women and children equal poverty.

A child raised by his mother alone is four times as likely to be poor as a child with both parents at home. In fact, more than half the children in female-headed families are poor. The rate is two-thirds in such black families.

But having two parents at home is no guarantee. Seven million of our 14 million poor children lived in "male present" homes. The rate of two parent poor families is rising.

Nor does a full time job guarantee affluence. More than 2.5 million children were poor in 1983 even though a parent worked full time year round. That is 17%--nearly one-fifth -of all poor children.

Divorce, on the other hand, means instant poverty for half of the children involved. More than four million poor children have separated or divorced parents. Nobody has accurate statistics on how many millions of men do not pay their court-mandated child support, even though they have jobs. So welfare pays, while the children grow up poor. Spring Semple would not be poor if she and her brothers and sisters received their court-mandated child support of $80 per week.

When the mother is divorced and also working, the problems multiply. A working parent earning at or near the minimum wage cannot afford child care. So who takes care of the kids? Sometimes a relative, sometimes a friend, sometimes nobody.

Mona Obien has friends watch her children. She and others who work in industrial settings must work rotating shifts, so finding someone is often a problem.

I met children who were raising themselves because their mothers were working nights, or had to leave the house before breakfast. Many of these children joined the two million school kids who the Children's Defense Fund estimates are not regularly attending school.

Would they be better off if their moms quit work and went on welfare? Would we?

CINCINNATI, OHIO Spring Semple, 10, protests her father’s failure to pay child support for her and her three siblings.
PHILADELPHIA Brian Van Horn, 12, looks out the window of the house where he lives with his mother and three sisters.
Sheldon, South Elijah Major, 9, stands in the living room of his grandmother’s tar-paper shack.
MOREHAVEN, FLORIDA Robin and her daughter, Denise 12.
CLEWISTON, FLORIDA Ricky Summerall, 12 and his sister, Mary, 9, stand at the front door of their home. Their mother works full time as a short order cook.
HARTFORD, CONNECTICUT With his father out of work, Oscar Rivera, Jr., 10, sometimes eats dinner with the Salvation Army.
MOREHAVEN, FLORIDA Robin Albritton cleans fish as her son, Clarence, 7, watches.
IMMOKOLEE, FLORIDA Mona Obien, 24, mother of four, works at a tomato packing plant. Friends watch her children while she works.