June 15, 2022
Young Italians: the portrait of a country running away between inequalities and the political ineptitude
Insight by Michela Grasso, SPAGHETTIPOLITICS
«Palermo stinks splendidly, it is the reason why I cannot leave this city, its powerful decadence that tries to continually get up again. Palermo is fascinating to me, I could live in New York, Paris, Rome or Naples, but I would always be attracted to Palermo». Silvia Scaduto, 24, quotes this sentence of Letizia Battaglia, referring to the city where she was born and raised. «There are only a few of us now who want to stay in Sicily but I have the hope of succeeding, of being able to stay and always being able to buy two-way tickets», she adds. Silvia shares her hopes with thousands of other young Italians, many of whom have to migrate to other regions, or countries, to find proper work opportunities. Sicily, for example, is the Italian region second for the number of people who migrate towards the center-north of the country, being preceded by Campania, and followed by Puglia. In the last 10 years, 1 million and 140 thousand people have left the Italian south and the islands to move to the north. According to ISTAT's numbers of 2020, the difference between migration and emigration resulted in the loss of 526 thousand residents, as if the entire region of Basilica had disappeared within 10 years.
What these numbers portray is not positive. In addition to the migration from the south to the northern regions, there is also the diaspora of 980,000 Italians who have left the country in the last ten years. Italians have been migrants for centuries, even though sometimes this is forgotten. Migrating has always been a component of Italian identity, something quite easy to understand by simply looking at the migrations of the 19th and 20th century into every corner of the world. But this does not make it less unfair or less painful.
To analyze the situation of young Italians in recent years it is therefore necessary not only to look at the numbers, but also to rely on the stories of those directly involved. It is important for young people to tell their own stories, to explain their own difficulties and have a voice in the matter when the time to find political solutions comes. Right now, Italy is leading in Europe for young people between 15 and 29 years old, not in employment, education or training (NEET). In 2020, there were 2.1 million NEETs in Italy, out of a total of 9.8 million across the European Union. It is interesting to notice how, in the south of Italy, 32,6% of young people belong to the NEET category, a number that is halved in the north (16,8%). When looking at these numbers, it is essential to remember that in Italy it is common to work with irregular contracts. A research by ISTAT counted 3.7 million workers without regular contracts in 2020. It is likely then, that many of those counted as NEET, are working "in black". Working regularly is, however, a right, and this imbalance between north and south tells a story of inequalities, not only limited to the workplace but also to society, politics, access to services such as hospitals, schools and transportation.
When it comes to inequalities, it is good to remember that they can change from place to place. For example, a teenager living in a village on the Apennines may need much longer to get to school. It is not uncommon to meet young people forced to travel two hours every day to go and come back from school, time subtracted from studying, but also from daily life. In similar situations, those who do not have easy access to the school of their interest (in Italy schools are specialized) suffer a significant disadvantage, thus seeing their right to study damaged.
The pandemic was a clear demonstration of the inequalities within the Italian education system. On the one hand, several students have appreciated Distance Learning (DL), for example those with physical impediments or who had to spend too much time on public transport to reach the school. On the other hand, the pandemic has shown that not everyone has the tools for DL, and that these tools are not a common good. In 2020, between March and June, 600 thousand children up to the age of 14 did not have any kind of class, not only due to organizational problems in the schools, but also due to a lack of technological tools. According to ISTAT, during the pandemic, 1 in 6 children did not have adequate computer equipment at their disposal. This is why it is important to take into account different factors when analyzing inequalities in the workplace and in the education sector, to better understand the causes and find more effective solutions.
In the past years, Silvia has had different work experiences in Sicily. First, she worked for a catering company «I was paid 50 euro a day to work from 8 to 10 hours a day, and this was the wage for women, for men it was 80». Apart from very low pay, the detail of the salary difference between men and women is not irrelevant. This reminds us of another dimension of inequality, gender. Gender inequalities have a huge impact on the labor market. They are part of a long and complex topic that will be addressed in the next in-depth analysis. But it is Silvia's words that remind us how exploitation is not only an economic phenomenon but also and above all a cultural one.
«Here in Sicily, but I think in the whole of Italy, there is a culture of exploitation. When you are looking for a job, you are offered unpaid trials and ridiculous wages. We grow up with our parents telling us to leave for a better future», says Silvia, referring to another work experience in a kindergarten, where she found herself running entire classes of children for four days without ever being paid. These days were considered "trial days" by the owner, and therefore unpaid. The probationary period may be necessary, both for the employee and for the employer, but according to Italian law it must be paid because it is work in all respects.
Silvia's story is not an exception. Luca Tesini, 22, and Giulia Bold, 21, also found themselves in a similar situation in Veneto, their region of origin. «We tried to look for a job in Jesolo during the summer season. Some proposals were pure slavery. We were asked to work 40 hours a week for 600 euro a month. And I found myself working 7 days a week, with only one free morning, 10 hours a day for 1200 euro a month. It was my first job and I could not find anything better» explains Giulia. Now, the couple lives in Iceland, where they work in the hospitality sector, receiving double the pay of Italy, for fewer hours.
Silvia, Giulia and Luca, tell stories that have been heard before and that perfectly fit with the current season, spring. This is the moment when multiple known restaurant owners begin to complain about staff shortages in the HORECA sector. A problem that, according to them, must be attributed to young people's laziness and unwillingness to work. Every year, the same arguments are heard again. However, it is curious to notice how in 2021, restaurant owners' words were debunked by statistical data. Last summer, in fact, saw a record in the number of new employment contracts made in the touristic sector, with 142,272 seasonal contracts signed in May, a number doubling the one of 2017.
Internal migrations, between North and Sud, and external migrations towards foreign countries, are a warning sign that has been ignored for too long. In a country that is getting older by the day, young people's leaving represents a death sentence. Italy is the world's third oldest country, as in 2020, 23% of the population was 65+. And the increase of the average age, at the moment set at 45.9 years, corresponds to a decrease in births. These numbers are the reflection of a country that forgot about young people and that refuses to improve the working conditions of its own citizens. A country where politics is incapable of implementing visionary policies for the next thirty years, it can be hoped that emigration will decrease. And, only by granting everyone an equal and fair treatment, by guaranteeing subsidies, incentives and serious policies aimed at young people and families, can we ensure an increase in the birth rate and the salvation of the "Bel Paese" .
When it comes to inequality, one immediately thinks of the gap between the "rich" and the "poor". And certainly this is one of the dimensions of the phenomenon, but there is much more in between. There is inequality between regions and cities, which has a profound impact on a person's opportunity to work, study and have fun. There is gender inequality, which has a deep impact on women's careers, and the same goes for foreigners working in Italy. The dimensions of inequality in Italy are different, and are intertwined with the identity, origin, gender and physical abilities of each one. Writing and talking about it is a first step to recognize the problem and suggest constructive solutions. The next articles, with a focus on young people, will be a first step in this direction.