The Los Angeles Jobs-First Gain Evaluation: First-Year Findings on Participation

Publication Date: June 15, 1999


In 1993, administrators of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) began a total overhaul of their welfare-to-work program, GAIN (Greater Avenues for Independence). For the previous five years, GAIN staff had assigned most welfare recipients who entered the program to classes in adult basic education, GED preparation, or English as a Second Language. Evidence from several sources — including an evaluation of the program by MDRC, agency reports on participation and job placements, and discussions with supervisors and staff — showed that GAIN’s basic education approach was not working as hoped: The program was relatively costly, but helped few additional people attain education credentials or employment.

DPSS administrators resolved that a program that offered job search assistance as its primary service and encouraged welfare recipients to start working as soon as possible would help greater numbers of welfare recipients achieve self-sufficiency. Consulting with administrators of other programs, including the GAIN program in neighboring Riverside County, and working with administrators in the County Office of Education, DPSS administrators fashioned an innovative, strongly employment-focused program, which they named Jobs-First GAIN.

Launched in 1995, Jobs-First GAIN combined program services and mandates that had worked in other settings and some that were relatively new. Its main features included: (1) an unusually intensive program orientation aimed at motivating new enrollees to find work quickly; (2) high-quality job clubs, whose leaders taught job-finding skills and engaged participants in activities aimed at boosting their self-esteem and motivation to work; (3) job development activities to increase job opportunities and match people with prospective employers; (4) a strong Work First message communicated through written handouts and group presentations, and in individual meetings with program staff; (5) a warning, repeated orally and in writing, that California would impose time limits on welfare eligibility for those who did not work; (6) a concerted effort to teach people that California’s relatively generous rules for calculating welfare grants would help them increase their income in the short term by combining work and welfare; and (7) a relatively tough, enforcement-oriented approach to encourage people to complete the activities and find work quickly. Most of the features of Jobs-First GAIN continue under CalWORKs, California’s program under the TANF provisions of the 1996 federal welfare reform law.

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