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Italy's Birth RateItaly’s birth rate has continued to drop, according to the most recent report from the Italian National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT). This is the second year in a row that the national number of births has dipped to fewer than half a million. The birth rate is currently at 473,438.

In 2015, the country saw its fertility rate plunge to its lowest since the Italian modern state was formed in 1861. The national average birth rate of 1.35 children per woman is significantly less than the average for women across the European Union at 1.58.

Political analysts have cited the spikes in poverty and unemployment rates among the youth as possible factors that may have spurred the decline of Italy’s birth rate. Even though the birth rate has been steadily decreasing since its peak during the 1960s, it has fallen significantly years after the 2008 global financial crisis. From 2008 to 2013, Italy passed through its longest and deepest economic recession; as an effect, the national unemployment rate grew from 5.7 percent in 2007 to 13 percent in 2014.

The aftershocks of the recession hit young Italians the hardest. As the country starts its path towards economic recovery with increasing in small increments of the GDP and a gradual decrease in the unemployment rate, Italy’s youth fall deeper into poverty. A 2017 report from Caritas, an Italian Catholic organization focused on social development in the country, reveals that one out of 10 young Italians are now poor, a stark contrast from the two percent poverty rate in 2007. Moreover, close to one of five young Italians are neither employed nor in the workforce, almost double the EU average at 11.5 percent. Youth unemployment, consistently high since the economic downturn in 2008, is still at 37.8 percent, the third-highest in the European Union.

The youth who are more fortunate to be employed, often either have irregular contracts or earn significantly less than their older colleagues. According to the Employment and Social Developments in Europe (EDSE) review published by the European Union (2017), 15 percent of Italian employees aged 25 to 39 have irregular contractual work, while workers aged under 30 earn 60 percent less than workers over 60.

The lack of financial security has had a marked impact on Italy’s youth, who with the uncertainty in the job market have opted to stay home until they are financially and professionally stable. Italians now leave home and have their first child at the age of 31 or 32, five years after the average European.

Members of the Italian government have recognized the interrelation between the decline in Italy’s birth rate and the increase in poverty and unemployment rates among Italy’s youth. “[With] no guarantee of income for citizens, most will not think about starting a family,” Italian health minister Beatrice Lorenzin said in 2016. Young Italians, suffering from the lowest wages in Europe and rising poverty rates, seem to know better than burdening themselves with trying to provide for dependents with their meager incomes.

Bella Suansing

Photo: Flickr

Trump's Policy on Domestic Poverty
With so little time left until the U.S. presidential election, the tension between candidates, ideologies and policies has nearly peaked. Donald Trump’s policies hold the promise of “making America great again” by reinvigorating the economy through protectionist trade policies, ridding the country of those who take advantage of the system as well as tax cuts to the rich and corporations. Further study shows that a different outcome would result from Trump’s policy on domestic poverty.

According to many economic experts, Trump’s policy on domestic poverty would lead the nation into recession, most harshly affecting the poorest households. Trump’s policies would “significantly” weaken the country and drive the U.S. into a “lengthy recession,” according to a Moody’s Analytics report. An estimated 3.5 million jobs could be lost and the unemployment rate could increase from 5% to 7%. The average household would face a regressive consumption tax of $11,100 over five years.

Citing trade deficits with Mexico, China and Japan, Trump has continuously claimed that the U.S. has lost its dominance through weak trade agreements and outsourcing manufacturing jobs. To change this and promote domestic production, Trump plans to impose a 35% tariff on goods from Mexico and a 45% tariff on goods from China and Japan. While producers and the government would gain $43 billion and $65 billion, the total loss to the U.S. economy would be $170 billion, according to the National Foundation for American Policy. The average household would lose 4% of its income and for households making “the lowest 10[%] of income up to 18% of their (mean) after-tax income” would be lost.

According to the study, tariffs on imports from the three countries would not even protect U.S. workers from foreign competition, meaning the, “only logical alternative would be to impose a similar set of tariffs on all other countries that export to the United States.” This approach could cost households with the lowest 10% of income to lose a massive 53% of their income.

Trump also promised to deport the more than 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. Although he recently softened his immigration stance, many still idealize a future without illegal immigrants. The massive deportation, however, would shrink the economy by about 2%, from a $400-$600 billion GDP collapse, decrease the workforce by about seven million and cost millions of dollars to implement, not to mention the construction of a nearly 2,000-mile-long border wall. The economic slump would inevitably magnify the struggles of the poor as it caused consumer product prices to increase.

Last but not least, and perhaps most unclear to the public, are Trump’s tax plans. Although dubbed the “blue-collar billionaire,” Trump’s economic plan will give reduced tax rates to the wealthiest individuals, from 39.6% to 33% and corporations, from the proposed 25% to 15%. The new tax policy would increase government deficit by an estimated $10 trillion over the next decade, according to the Tax Policy Center, slashing the funds for social security, medicare, Medicaid and interest payments that already make up more than two-thirds of the annual budget. Yet Trump has offered few expenditure reduction proposals that would make up for the revenue loss, meaning that the millions of Americans who rely on these government benefits would likely suffer. Otherwise, spending on all other programs would need to be cut by 53% to meet the revenue loss, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

In response to his tax plan critics, Trump has cited his belief in trickle-down economics, a theory that states that if the rich receive tax cuts, the money they save will be invested and eventually trickle down to the poor, invigorating the entire economy. The theory, however, has been repeatedly disproven. In 2012, the Tax Justice Network conducted a study that suggested between $21 and $32 trillion has been siphoned from the world economy by the rich and put into private, off-shore accounts. In 2015, the International Monetary Fund also filed a report showing that the trickle-down effect does not exist, as the rich continue to get richer.

As Election Day nears, it is important to consider the impact of both candidates’ policies on the economy and the poor in particular.

Henry Gao

Photo: Flickr

International Monetary Fund
Growth does not happen instantaneously and, oftentimes, catalyzing economic growth is a decades-long venture. No one expects positive results immediately, but people do expect a fair approach to promoting wealth. In times of crisis, most countries answer to the same worldwide organizations dedicated to ameliorating economic recession. Primarily, the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Founded shortly after World War II, the IMF’s mandate was to promote international trade and economic cooperation by aiding countries in times of crisis, vis-a-vis loans and budgetary advice. It is predominantly counseled by six nations according to a weighted voting system. Germany, France, Japan, Britain, China and the United States control over 50 percent of the organization’s voting power. This is an important consideration when one considers that small, poverty-stricken countries, like those in Africa or Latin America, have absolutely no say in the IMF’s policies in comparison to a few powerful member states.

While the IMF may masquerade as an institution seeking to mitigate poverty, its economic decisions stem from countries that prioritize their own power and wealth. Noam Chomsky, a prominent political analyst and professor emeritus at MIT, described the works of the IMF and its top-member nations as “Designed for capital, not people.”

Most loan agreements from the International Monetary Fund come with harsh conditions that encourage the eventual triumph of capital while simultaneously removing social safety nets. Stipulations on loan agreements require severe cutbacks on wages and welfare in order to receive critically needed funds. Invariably, these loan conditions target the programs used by the working class majority.

News outlet Global Exchange (GE) documents the history of IMF protocol, reporting that “The IMF and World Bank frequently advise countries to attract foreign investors by weakening their labor laws – eliminating collective bargaining laws and suppressing wages.” Rather than encouraging domestic development, the IMF enforces economic policies that favor en mass, cheap exports operated through low wage labors costs and weakly regulated industries.

The results of Latin America’s arrangement with the IMF is indicative of the results of a “capital over community” approach. Argentina, once considered the model of financial prowess by the IMF, has steadily declined following the organization’s intervention during the late 90’s. According to University of Washington professor Victor Menaldo, “Public investment is the lowest it has ever been, less than 2 percent of GDP. Taxes on capital gains are less than 5 percent as of 2000. Lastly, along with Argentina, Brazil and Mexico are experiencing the highest amount of foreign debt in their histories.”

For many developing nations and countries under recession, poverty can be right around the corner. The way international organizations and enterprises collaborate in dealing with such potential poverty will determine whether a nation prospers or stagnates. Eliminating poverty is dependent on adjusting the failures of mainstream economics. This means stepping away from the IMF, preventing reductions in labor laws and not withholding loan agreements on conditions—such as eliminating bargaining rights or striking pensions—that have shown to only hurt economies in both the short and long term.

— Michael Giacoumopoulos

Sources: Global Exchange, The Tech, The Washington Post
Photo: NSZ

botswana_opt
Botswana is a landlocked nation in the southern part of Africa. The economy of this country is defined by a single luxury export: diamonds. Beginning in the mid 1960’s, the economy of Botswana expanded exponentially. Due to her dependence on the success of one export, however, Botswana suffered from an economic contraction in 2009. This contraction occurred as the result of a shrinking global demand for Botswana diamonds. An already significant portion of the population in Botswana was living in extreme poverty prior to 2009. The economic downturn only perpetuated and strengthened a trend toward more abject conditions.

HIV/AIDS, however, is the largest contributor to poverty in Botswana. According to the CIA World Factbook, the prevalence of HIV/Aids is “second highest in the world and threatens Botswana’s impressive economic gains”. In 2012, 25% of the adult population was infected with the deadly virus. A health problem of this magnitude is detrimental to a nation’s economic well-being because it reduces human capital.

The good news is that the government of Botswana has begun to address HIV/AIDS with great success. President Festus Mogae who led the nation from 1998-2008 instituted a program to distribute AIDS medication to his people in 2002. This resulted in the medication of 95% of infected adults in Botswana.

In addition to Mogae’s initiative, the United States contributed vast amounts of aid money to the beleaguered country since the enacting of George W. Bush’s PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) from 2003-2008. With this boost from the U.S. government, Botswana has begun to rise from the ashes of economic recession and improve the health of its citizens.

– Josh Forgét

Source: The World Bank, PBS, CIA World Factbook
Photo: Chobe Safari

Immigration. Poverty. Men eating. Free meal from Caritas

With the global recession lasting over two years now, many countries have been highly affected by the current state of the global economy. One of the countries that has been hit the hardest is Italy. Many people do not think of Italy as a poor country by any means. However, the number of people that live in seriously deprived families in Italy has soared up to 8.6 million.

The unemployment rate in Italy for the younger generation has recently hit 40 percent. Italians’ purchasing power fell by 4.8 percent in this last year.

To put the drastic rate at which the poverty level in Italy is increasing into perspective, here are a few figures: The percentage of families that could not afford to eat a protein based meal such as meat every two days, rose to 16.6 percent in 2012. The year before, this percentage was only at 12.4 percent. In 2010 this percentage was at 6.7 percent. In two years, the percentage of families that could not eat a nutritious meal for a period longer than two days rose by 9.9 percent.

While all of this may seem grim, there is still hope for Italy. Prime Minister Enrico Letta stated that he believes Italy can stage an economic recovery without increasing its huge public debt. After meeting with his advisors, he concluded Italy’s economy may get slightly worse before there is improvement, but in the next few years improvements are expected in Italy’s fiscal state.

– Matthew Jackoski

Sources: Huffington Post, Reuters
Photo: Didier Ruef