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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

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Causes of Poverty in Italy

It is vital to evaluate the root causes of poverty in Italy, especially because 17.5 million Italians now live below the poverty line, with 4.74 million classifying themselves as absolute poor, or unable to purchase basic goods and services, according to a recent report by the Italian National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT). The report reveals an almost threefold increase in absolute poverty rates since 2006, when only 1.7 million were reported as absolute poor.

The national poverty rate remained high at 28.7 percent, a far cry from the target numbers set by the Europe 2020 Strategy for Poverty, which aims to cut the number of Italians living in poverty to 12.8 million.

The country’s slow recovery from the 2008 global recession is partly to blame. Nine years after the crisis, industrial production is yet to recover after 25 percent of the industrial sector closed down in 2008. The labor force has also staggered since the crisis spurred the unemployment rate to jump from 5.7 percent in 2007 to 13 percent in 2014. The national unemployment rate stands at 11.1 percent as of April 2017.

This five-year period from 2008 and 2013 saw the country experience its longest and gravest economic downturn since World War II, and its consequences are still the root causes of poverty in Italy.

The arduous journey to economic recovery has impacted all sectors of the country, with none so negatively affected as the country’s youth. With its high unemployment rate and the lowest wages in Europe, Italy has not been favorable to the young. One out of ten young Italians now classifies as poor, a massive increase from two percent in 2007.

Those who live in the underdeveloped South, the region that holds about a third of Italy’s population, also run a higher risk of living in poverty than their neighbors in the North and Center. The report by ISTAT indicates that 55.4 percent of residents in the Sicilian region live in poverty, a stark contrast to rates of 17.4 in the north and 24 percent in the center. The north and center house the tourist-attracting cities of Milan, Venice, Florence and Rome.

The massive debt amassed by the Italian government during the crisis has rendered it unable to address this root cause of poverty in Italy. Moreover, with the economic productivity of other regions, focusing on these regions instead of rebuilding the south is a temptation too profitable to pass up. The GDP per capita generated by these regions is 40 percent higher than what is generated by the south.

Some have expressed that this approach may widen the already massive socioeconomic gap between the regions. They cite that the lack of attention by leaders for the south will only produce other causes of poverty in Italy. “Our government is resigned to the idea that it is not a responsibility of the Republic to combat the causes of poverty in Italy,” Giuseppe De Marzo, an activist with the Misery Ladra campaign, wrote. “The institutionalization of poverty [is the consequence] of a political culture that denies universalism, solidarity and social cooperation as fundamental instruments of democracy to guarantee dignity.”

Bella Suansing

Photo: Flickr