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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