Los Angeles Jobs-First GAIN Evaluation: Final Report on a Work First Program in a Major Urban Center

Published: June 15, 2000
Self-Sufficiency, Welfare & Employment
Evaluation of Los Angeles County GAIN Program, 1997-2000 | Learn more about this project

As welfare rolls have gone down in recent years, welfare recipients have become increasingly concentrated in large urban areas. There, the challenges of reform are great: Unemployment rates typically exceed the national average; welfare recipients (many of them people of color and recent immigrants) often live far from available jobs and face other barriers to employment, including discrimination in the labor market; and welfare systems are operated by large bureaucracies that can be difficult to change. To meet these challenges, program administrators and policymakers need reliable information on effective approaches to helping people find employment and reducing welfare dependency.

Over the past decade, studies of welfare programs in Los Angeles County, the most populous in the nation, have helped meet this need. Since the late 1980s, administrators of the county’s Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) have implemented several different strategies for boosting employment and reducing welfare and have, to an unusual extent, sought to have the effectiveness of their efforts rigorously evaluated. This commitment to knowledge development has created an important legacy for the county and for the nation.

This report concludes MDRC’s study of an important stage in the evolution of welfare reform in Los Angeles County. In the mid-1990s, DPSS transformed its Greater Avenues for Independence (GAIN) program, which sent most welfare recipients to school to learn basic skills, into Jobs-First GAIN, a Work First program that assigned most welfare recipients to job search and attempted to move welfare recipients as quickly as possible into employment. Jobs-First GAIN’s main features included: (1) an unusually intensive program orientation; (2) high-quality job clubs, which combined instruction in job-finding skills with activities aimed at boosting participants’ self-esteem and motivation to work; (3) job development activities; (4) strong encouragement to take entry-level jobs and combine work and welfare in the short term; and (5) relatively tough, enforcement-oriented case management.