The Los Angeles Jobs-First Greater Avenues for Independence (GAIN) Program

Updated: Feb 09, 2018
Evidence Rating:
Suggestive Tier


  • Program:

    A program to quickly move welfare recipients into the workforce.

  • Evaluation Methods:

    A well-conducted randomized controlled trial (RCT) with a sample of 20,731 welfare recipients in Los Angeles.

  • Key Findings:

    Sizable increase in employment rates and job earnings, reduction in welfare dependency, and savings to the government.

  • Other:

    A limitation of the evidence is that this study was conducted prior to the enactment of sweeping federal welfare reforms in 1996, and it is unknown whether the findings would generalize to present-day welfare settings.

Jobs-First Greater Avenues for Independence (GAIN), which operated in Los Angeles from 1995-1998, was a welfare-to-work program for all two-parent welfare recipients, and all single-parent welfare recipients whose children were at least three years old. The program served the largest county welfare population in the nation — a welfare population larger than that of all states except for New York and California. It was a mandatory program, in that participation was required as a condition for receiving full federal welfare benefits.

An important aspect of Jobs-First GAIN is that it was designed based on the results of previous well-designed randomized controlled trials. Specifically, it was created in response to the finding of few positive effects in a trial of Los Angeles’ previous welfare-to-work program — which focused on providing welfare recipients with basic education services as its first priority (e.g., remedial reading and math). In addition, Jobs-First GAIN borrowed key features from the welfare-to-work program in Riverside County, California, which had been found highly effective in an earlier trial. Like the Riverside County program, Jobs-First GAIN placed strong emphasis on moving welfare recipients quickly into the workforce.

Jobs-First GAIN was operated through a close partnership between Los Angeles County’s Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) and its Office of Education. Throughout the program, starting with an intensive six-hour group orientation, program staff conveyed a strong message about the importance of work, emphasizing how it can lift participants’ self-esteem and how a low-paying job can serve as a stepping stone to a higher-paying one. Following orientation, participants met one-on-one with a DPSS case manager who collected their background information and assigned them to their first program activity.

The main program activity was a three-week job club, conducted by Office of Education staff at job centers throughout the county. A small percentage of program participants (23%) took part in basic education or job training, but usually in conjunction with attending job clubs. The job clubs taught participants how to find job openings, write a resume, complete a job application, and effectively interview for a position. Job club participants then conducted up to two weeks of supervised job search, using job center resources (i.e., phones, job listings, and staff assistance). Program staff also brought in local employers for weekly job fairs, and capitalized on their relationships with these employers to match program participants to specific job openings.

Participation in Los Angeles Jobs-First GAIN was mandatory, and almost 30% of individuals assigned to the program lost some of their welfare benefits for not participating in assigned activities.

Over two years, the total program cost was approximately $2,485 per two-parent family assigned to the program and $4,305 per single-parent assigned to the program in 1998 dollars ($3,796 and $6,576 respectively in 2017 dollars). Costs were higher for single-parents because, on average, they participated in more program activities than members of two-parent families.

Click here for a more detailed description of the Los Angeles Jobs-First GAIN program. See especially pp. ES-5 to ES-9 and pp. 7-12.

Throughout this summary, all monetary amounts are converted to 2017 dollars.

To see our full evidence summary:
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Freedman, Stephen, Jean Tansey Knab, Lisa A. Gennetian, and David Navarro. “The Los Angeles Jobs-First GAIN Evaluation: Final Report on a Work First Program in a Major Urban Center.” MDRC, June 2000. Click here for a link to this study.

Weissman, Evan. “Changing to a Work First Strategy: Lessons from Los Angeles County’s GAIN Program for Welfare Recipients.” MDRC, June 1997.