SAN JOSE (KPIX) – The COVID-19 pandemic shutdown caused employers to shed 2.3 million payroll jobs, the largest one-month job loss ever recorded in California. A quarter of the state’s workers could be left jobless, a rate akin levels during the Great Depression,

But not all of the people who have lost their jobs want to go back to work, and not only because of health and safety concerns. Some people are actually making more money by staying at home on unemployment than they would if they still had their job.

“So far it’s wonderful because they’re giving me a lot of income, more so I would say than if I was working right now,” said Natalie Matheson, who lost her job as a hostess in a hotel restaurant last March.

She qualified for state unemployment, which pays $200 a week. Then came the federal stimulus bill which brings in another $600 a week on top of that.

“It’s like $800 a week which is unbelievable,” Matheson said. “I’m making a decent amount on unemployment. So I’ve thought, should I go back to work? Is it worth it.”

Restaurants that are trying to re-open are finding it hard to rehire their old workers.

“The hardest thing is to get employees to come back because they’re making more money on unemployment,” said Christopher Kohler, of the Old Wagon Saloon in San Jose.

Kohler said the restaurant pays workers minimum wage plus tips, but without table service, workers are not earning tips.

“Basically, anyone in California who was earning less than $43,000 or $44,000 a year is collecting more on unemployment insurance,” said Michael Bernick, an employment attorney and the former head of the California Employment Development Department.

He says workers can enjoy the benefits, that is, until they are offered their old jobs back. But because of the pandemic, there’s a new twist having to do with safety.

“If workers are called back in a safe environment, they’re required to come back,” says Bernick.

But what is safe? For Natalie, it’s not her old job. Not yet.

“I think I’m going to stay on unemployment right now because I’m not comfortable going back to work. I live with my dad and he’s older so I would just hate for anything to happen,” she said.

The federal unemployment payments are scheduled to end in July, but Democrats in Congress are pushing a bill to extend payments until the end of the year.

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