• 0.06,1.00
  • 0.06,5.00
  • 0.06,1.00
  • 0.08,5.00
  • 0.10,1.00
  • 0.07,5.00
  • 0.02,3.00

GAIN, a mandatory welfare-to-work program, provided a series of education, training, and job search activities to help recipients of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) increase their employment and earnings. 

Greater Avenues for Independence (GAIN) is currently offering some services remotely in response to COVID-19
Greater Avenues for Independence (GAIN) is currently offering some services remotely in response to COVID-19

GAIN, a mandatory welfare-to-work program, provided a series of education, training, and job search activities to help recipients of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) increase their employment and earnings. 

For participants with low educational attainment or low math, reading, or English language skills at program entry, GAIN began with adult education or job search assistance. For all other GAIN participants, the program began with job search assistance, including job clubs and supervised job searches. Participants who did not obtain employment after these activities underwent formal assessments of their career goals and skills; developed an individual employment plan; and could engage in a variety of work, education, and training activities, including vocational or on-the-job training, unpaid work experience, supported work, and postsecondary education. Participants continued in GAIN until they found employment, left GAIN, or became exempt from the program for other reasons. GAIN participants were AFDC recipients in California. The GAIN evaluation occurred in six California counties: Alameda, Butte, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, and Tulare.

Year evaluation began: 1987
Populations and employment barriers: Long-term cash assistance recipients, Parents
Intervention services: Case management, Education, Supportive services, Training, Occupational or sectoral training, On-the-job training, Subsidized employment, Work experience, Work readiness activities, Job development/job placement
Setting(s): Urban only

Effectiveness rating and effect by outcome domain

Back to top
View table help Need more context or definitions for the Outcome Domain table below? View the "Table help" to get more insight into terms, measures, and definitions.

Scroll to the right to view the rest of the table columns

Outcome domain Term Effectiveness rating Effect in 2018 dollars and percentages Effect in standard deviations Sample size
Increase earnings Short-term Supported favorable $1,318 per year 0.063 32933
Long-term Supported favorable $1,673 per year 0.080 32933
Very long-term Little evidence to assess support favorable $879 per year 0.042 8219
Increase employment Short-term Supported favorable 4% (in percentage points) 0.099 32933
Long-term Supported favorable 3% (in percentage points) 0.070 32933
Very long-term Little evidence to assess support 0% (in percentage points) 0.000 0
Decrease benefit receipt Short-term Supported favorable $-176 per year -0.064 32933
Long-term Supported favorable $-113 per year -0.041 32933
Very long-term No evidence to assess support
Increase education and training All measurement periods No evidence to assess support

Participant race and ethnicity
Black or African American
Hispanic or Latino of any race
Unknown, not reported, or other

Implementation details

Back to top

Dates covered by study

GAIN, once the nation’s largest welfare-to-work program, began in 1985 under the Job Opportunities and Basic Skills Training Program. Between March 1988 and June 1990, 33,000 nonexempt AFDC recipients from 6 counties (detailed below) were randomly assigned to an intervention group that participated in GAIN or to a comparison group that was excluded from participating in GAIN but could access other community services.

Findings are based on three years or more of follow-up data that tracks the two groups over time. Information collected before mid-1991 is used to describe the counties’ strategies for implementing GAIN.

Organizations implementing intervention

California’s Department of Social Services oversaw the implementation of GAIN, which was administered by 58 counties in California. Six county welfare departments (Alameda, Butte, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, and Tulare) were selected to participate in this study.

Populations served

AFDC recipients whose participation in GAIN was mandatory were included in the study. Of the 33,000 participants in the study, about 69 percent were single heads of families (usually mothers), mostly with children age 6 or older. Thirty-one percent were unemployed heads of two-parent families (usually fathers). Participant demographics varied extensively by county. The average age of study participants across all 6 counties ranged from 30 to 42 years old, and the average number of children ranged from 2 to 3. The percentage of participants with limited English proficiency ranged from 17 to 83 percent; refugee status ranged from 12 to 56 percent; participants with a high school diploma or GED ranged from 17 to 49 percent; and those currently employed up to 29 hours per week ranged from 6 to 26 percent.

Participants’ race also varied across counties from 11 to 75 percent for White, not Hispanic; 8 to 42 percent for Hispanic; 2 to 15 percent for Black, not Hispanic; and 3 to 58 percent for Asian, not Hispanic, among others. Two counties focused solely on long-term AFDC recipients.

Participation in GAIN was a mandatory requirement for nonexempt AFDC participants to receive their full welfare grant. Exempt AFDC participants included single parents with children younger than 6. For purposes of the research study, nonexempt AFDC participants assigned to the comparison group did not have access to GAIN services and were therefore not subject to the mandate.


Description of services implemented

The GAIN model began at the county welfare department’s Income Maintenance Office where initial or continuing eligibility for welfare was determined. Nonexempt AFDC participants were registered for GAIN and referred to the GAIN office for orientation, which included a basic reading and math test and an appraisal, and GAIN-exempt participants were offered an opportunity to volunteer for the program. Nonexempt AFDC participants who attended orientation were randomly assigned into research groups, with comparison group members unable to access GAIN services (including child care) for at least three years. In the appraisal interview at orientation, the case manager reviewed the participant’s background before referring intervention group members to a GAIN activity or a temporary deferment. Participants could be deferred from the program for having a part-time job or a situation that prevented them from attending an activity, such as a temporary illness. The case manager also helped arrange supportive services such as child care and transportation. Case managers then connected GAIN participants to one of two primary service tracks:

  • In need of basic education. Participants could choose the initial activity if they did not have a high school diploma or GED, did not obtain predetermined scores on the math or reading tests, or were not proficient in English. Participants in need of basic education either entered a job search activity or a basic education class such as Adult Basic Education (ABE), GED preparation, or English as a second language (ESL). However, those who chose a job search activity and did not secure employment were required to enter basic education.

  • Not in need of basic education. Participants with a high school diploma (or a GED) and who surpassed predetermined scores on the math and reading tests were usually required to start a job search activity. Job search activities usually lasted for three weeks and included job club (group training sessions to learn job-seeking and interviewing skills) and supervised job search (in which participants received access to telephone banks, job listings, and employment counseling).

A third service track was available for GAIN participants who had started education or training activities before GAIN’s orientation. Prior enrollees could continue engaging in education and training activities as long as the activities prepared participants for local labor market in-demand occupations and training was completed within two years of starting GAIN.
GAIN participants who failed to secure employment after completing their initial activities were required to receive an employability assessment of their career plans to determine their post-assessment activity. Post-assessment activities included skills training, on-the-job training, unpaid work experience, or vocational postsecondary education. An individual employment plan was also required. For some participants, a 90-day job search occurred after the post-assessment activity. Participants who missed orientation or services without “good cause” could receive a financial sanction—that is, a reduction in their state welfare grant. Sanction amounts varied with family size. For example, in January 1993 when the welfare grant was $624 per month for a family of three, a sanction would have reduced the family’s grant by $120. Examples of “good cause” were not provided, and counties varied in their application of GAIN’s formal penalty process.

The six counties implementing GAIN varied in their approach to preparing participants for employment. For example, Riverside prioritized immediate employment or acceptance of any job regardless of participant interest or pay, whereas most other counties focused on skills development and encouraged participants to be selective about jobs.
Key implementation features of Riverside, the county with the most positive participant outcomes, included the following:

  • Strong messaging emphasizing participants should quickly find jobs.

  • Job placement goals for all county supervisors and district offices that culminated in a county-wide goal.

  • Staff job performance ratings that were linked to their ability to meet job placement standards.

  • Strong enforcement of the participation mandate.

  • A focus on job search and basic education for participants who needed basic education.

Service intensity

The average number of months GAIN participants in the intervention group participated in each activity within 2 to 3 years after orientation was as follows: 1.9 months for job search, 2.6 months for unpaid work experience, 7.3 months for ABE or GED, 8.1 months for ESL, and 9.3 months for vocational training or postsecondary education.

Comparison conditions

AFDC participants who were randomly assigned into the comparison group did not have access to GAIN services but could seek other services, which varied by community. Job search activities were not as widely available to comparison group members as education and training opportunities. Twenty-three percent of comparison group members participated in vocational training or postsecondary education.


Participants were referred to other education, training, and service providers, as appropriate, but the study did not specifically identify these partners or discuss their involvement in detail.


Non-welfare agencies, including adult schools, community colleges and other organizations, provided basic education classes, vocational training, and postsecondary education. Case managers worked with participants throughout the program by connecting them to service tracks, monitoring participant attendance and progress, and arranging supportive services. The way case managers executed their responsibilities varied across counties, with some offices emphasizing quick employment, personalized attention, and enforcement more than others. Riverside and San Diego had a higher percentage of staff who had previously worked in an education or training program, but this was not a requirement for employment. Riverside’s GAIN offices included a job developer, whose purpose was to form relationships with employers to better connect participants to jobs.

The study authors did not include additional information on the number of staff, but some information was provided about staff experience and education. The percentage of staff with a Bachelor’s degree or higher across the six counties ranged from about 30 percent to 96 percent. The percentage of staff who had previously worked in a job training program ranged from 20 percent to 63 percent across the counties. The percentage of staff who had previous experience as an income maintenance worker ranged from 18 percent to 90 percent across the six counties.

Local context

Local conditions varied for the six counties in California that participated in the study. These counties represented a mix of rural and urban areas, including Los Angeles, San Diego, and Riverside, all located in southern California; Alameda and Butte, located in northern California; and Tulare in rural Central Valley. The six counties selected for the study accounted for more than half of the state’s AFDC caseload and more than one-third of the state’s GAIN caseload. Alameda and Butte operated GAIN out of one location, whereas the remaining locations used several local GAIN offices, with caseloads varying by county. The unemployment rate across counties from July 1988 to June 1993 varied from 4 to 15 percent.

Fidelity measures

The study did not discuss any tools to measure fidelity to the intervention model.

Funding source

Funding levels varied by county. The estimated total federal, state, and local funding for GAIN statewide was about $198 million from 1990 to 1991 and $183 million from 1991 to 1992.

Cost information

The economic benefits of GAIN for participants exceeded costs in all counties except Los Angeles. GAIN also produced savings to the government budget that exceeded net costs of the program in three of the six counties; some savings were from reduced expenditures while others were from increased tax payments. The estimated average cost of GAIN per participant over a five-year period across six counties was about $4,415 (roughly $2,899 spent by county welfare departments, largely on case management functions, and about $1,515 spent by schools and non-welfare agencies for education and training instruction). The estimated average net benefit of GAIN per participant was $923. Riverside returned taxpayers $2.84 for every $1 invested in GAIN.

Studies of this intervention

Back to top
Study quality rating Study counts per rating
High High 3