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Italy's jobless generations

Italy's jobless generations
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Salvatore, a fine dining entrepreneur who has worked on three continents and speaks three languages, has come down in the world since his days as maestro at an Italian luxury restaurant in Ecuador.

Back in Italy now, with his wife and infant son, this 56-year-old depends on charity handouts to feed his family.

Salvatore said: “We survive for a month on what is in this bag. I’m very keen to find what there is for my baby boy.”

Salvatore is one of Italy’s roughly three million registered unemployed, a figure that’s risen by almost two percent in one year. This has alarmed the experts, considering the possible collapse of family-based support in Italy, which till now has managed to save many people from complete destitution. In Milan, Ian Ross Macmillan, Director of Carlo F. Dondena Centre for Research on Social Dynamics, describes the breakdown when unemployment moves up in age.

Macmillan said: “For countries that have traditionally relied upon the family as a safety net, like Italy or like Spain, most of the Mediterranean countries, it really matters then whether there’s unemployment among older adults. If there’s unemployment among older adults, then the safety net – period – collapses.”

The bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers bank in 2008 destroyed everything Salvatore had built abroad, and he came back to Milan planning to start all over again. He managed a restaurant for a chain, until that too was sucked down the economic drain, and today he finds himself too qualified to get hired.

Salvatore said: “Sometimes they tell me it’s because of my age, sometimes my CV. With more than 20 years’ of experience, they think they’ll have to pay me a big salary to go with my professional experience.”

As in other European countries in serious economic trouble, the incidence of younger people in Italy who depend on their parents support to live day-to-day has climbed painfully. Salvatore, closer to 60 than 50, doesn’t even have that option. The average unemployment rate in euro countries is 24 percent, but for under 25s in Italy it has increased by five points in one year, to reach around 37 percent. For most, no income means stagnation: putting traditional stages of life on hold.

Arnstein Aassve, the number two man at the Dondena Centre in Milan, calls this “an economic and social disaster in the making”, as he considers long-term projections.

Aasve said: “These young people will not be economically independent as an equally young age as the previous generation. So things are being postponed: finding stable employment, buying a house, forming a family, having children…”

Italian youth, feeling that their growth prospects are stunted in their own country, are walking out – emigrating. This means emptying parts of Italy of its young people and demoralising those who try to stay.

The record is in the southern Campania region, with 44% youth unemployment. That is double the rate in northern Lombardy. This creates wage inequalities, given the competition for work. It can mean being offered 17% less pay than in the north. That’s the case for Raffaella who has a degree in mathematics from Naples Federico II University.

Raffaella said: “I worked for seven months in a private school, earning 600 euros a month. That’s because we were kept out of the public system. There was a selection exam recently but it was reserved for people who had graduated in 2002 and were already certified. We weren’t considered eligible.”

Between 2007 and 2011, the jobless rate for graduates one year after they earn their degree doubled, reaching 19%. A friend Raffaella made at university, Roberta, had to take whatever she could get.

Roberta said: “With my maths degree, graduating with top honours, I had to adapt, just accept any job there was. So for two years I worked in a nightclub.”

In 2011, companies hired just 12.5% of university graduates. It’s estimated that will rise by two points by the end of this year. But still, like so many others, Raffaella and Roberta live in dread of being among the 85% of young, educated, qualified Italians who probably won’t get a job.