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Fear of the future: Italy is poorer and more unequal

by Alberto Orioli

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The colors and brushstrokes of statistics are no longer capable of accurately portraying Italy: a country that’s stagnant, frozen, unequal, and polarized. It is perhaps due to this reason that ISTAT’s 2017 Report on Italy has fully availed itself of conceptual sociological tools like never before.

Italy is stuck due to its inability to get its vital energies flowing, energies that are tied to greedy dynamics from generation to generation, incapable of creating a smooth fusion between its older and younger citizens. It has become a country of paradoxes where, for example, being a retired head of a household and out of the job market is quite preferable (in terms of income, wealth, and potential) to being a semi-educated young person who joins the job market with an unstable contract, or as an autonomous or “uncharacteristic” worker.

Where low-income families with a foreign member are in the most neglected social ‘circle’ (as in a circle of Hell, like in Dante’s works), since the income redistribution measures, speaking of fiscal intervention, either never come or end up increasing the perceived inequalities. And, above all, the real “war amongst the poor” is fought by the 1,800,000 families with immigrants, against the other 1,900,000 low-income families that are all-Italian. Where the rush for aid, for being listed for council houses, or nursery school assignments, becomes a conflict. This is the faultline along which the worst potential for social conflicts erupts, where prejudice finds a breeding ground to reproduce and spread.

Thus, what could be a positive and fruitful cultural “variety” among the “Italian apartment block” (as President Giorgio Alleva defined it in his presentation on the report) has gone up in smoke; all that’s left is alienation, fear, the distressing otherness that fuels reticence—and will ultimately increase Italy’s fragmentary nature.

ISTAT doesn’t fail to provide a snapshot of the Italy that we all know: the oldest in the world, where there have been fewer new births than deaths and the demographics have regressed by several centuries. With 3.5 million families without an income, the record level in the South; with seven out of ten Italians under the age of 35 who still live with their parents since they are unable to “afford” their independence; with Europe’s highest percentage of young people who aren’t looking for jobs or studying (2.2 million people): the real emblem of the scandalous waste of human capital in an Italy that’s still contaminated by doubt. Italy’s paralysis, without a social elevator, continues to perpetuate a model where families are guaranteed to pass on their social status, and repeated educational models have become a “tradition.”

Social classes no longer exist, explains Alleva, in this Italy where a liquid society has never existed or, if it ever initially sprouted, it quickly fell victim to a genuine freeze that crystalized these groups by supporting the income subcultures.

There’s also an Italy that’s driving growth, though this growth is still modest and slow. Manufacturers that export and create excellencies are still spearheading the economic performance, but they’ve also become the cultural leaders in creating opportunities in an apparently-slow Italy. One serious gap has proven to be an obstacle in creating the right connection between jobseekers and potential hirers: Italy is the homeland of an unbridgeable chasm. The sooner you understand, the better: for Europe, creating an efficient job market is a prerequisite for selling Brussels on a “social” Europe, one that has to make us forget about the Taliban-like period of strictness and austerity.