The deepening economic crisis in Italy, featuring severe government spending cuts and youth employment hovering above 40 percent, has prompted an exodus of the well-educated, while almost one-half of all young Italians wish to depart their homeland.
According to a report released by the Cariplo Foundation, a philanthropic organization, and the Toniolo Institute for Higher Education, 48 percent of Italian youths want to move abroad to find work, while 46.5 percent of those who remain in the country end up employed in a career for which they did not train nor study. In addition, 47 percent of those youths who have managed to find work in Italy complain their salaries are too meager.
On the whole, Italy’s unemployment rate climbed to an all-time high of 12.5 percent in September (since record-keeping began in 1977), Bloomberg reported, as the nation remains mired in the longest recession since World War II. Italian GDP is expected to contract by 1.8 percent this year, warned Antonio Golini, the acting chairman of Istat, the national statistical agency.
“We see the peak of the unemployment rate around 13 percent and see no evidence of an improvement from that rate next year,” Raffaella Tenconi, an economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in London, told Bloomberg. “Hiring intentions, though improving, continue to signal a weakening labor market.”
Consequently, over the past few years, as available jobs have shrunk or simply vanished, thousands of Italians have already exited, principally for the United Kingdom, Germany and Scandinavia.
“Youth unemployment is the true nightmare of our country,” Prime Minister Enrico Letta said earlier this month, adding that he fears Italy is creating a “lost generation.”
The Local newspaper reported that many of these expatriate Italians have no wish to return to their native country, even if the economy recovers there. They lament that Italian corporate culture is too deeply immersed in such things as nepotism, worker exploitation and ageism in contrast to the more enlightened viewpoints found in northern Europe.
Lorenza Frigerio, who now works as account manager in London, told the paper: “I would never go back. I look at Italy and I feel a little bit depressed. I would rather not wake up and read about the economy and the politics, and live in a place where I know that nothing is going well. I still feel Italian but now London is my home.” She even added that she was recently offered a job by a “huge company” in Milan, but rejected it.
“I didn't see an opportunity to grow and build up my experience, people don't invest in other people in Italy,” she explained. “I could be doing a similar job in Milan but my job here is much more integrated and creative. I wouldn't be doing something as fun and I wouldn't have the same salary.”
Andrea Teti, a political science professor in Aberdeen, Scotland, condemned the higher education system in Italy.
“It’s extremely difficult to get into an Italian university on merit alone,” he complained. “The barons are the powerful professors who play the local politics game and have an extremely strong influence on who gets hired; certain professors control certain appointments and there's an understanding between them of who will take turns in hiring.”
Valentina Moressa, working in public relations in London, said family connections means little in the U.K.
“I felt for the first time I had a chance to demonstrate my skills and talents, while in Italy it's all about who you know and who owes your dad a favor,” she said. “It was liberating coming here.”
Moressa also indicated that some 80 percent of her friends from her college days are now either in Britain, Germany or somewhere else outside of Italy.
“The ones that stayed in Italy managed to find a job but it's either not as well paid or it has low-level responsibilities,” she added.
“Starting my own business in Italy would also be insane. It takes 24 hours to set up a business in the UK; in Italy I don't even want to start to think about how long it would take. It's impossible for a start-up to survive.”
Valentina Cecco, a human rights activist in Brussels, bluntly declared that she sees no future in Italy.
“The economy is just part of the reason, it's more a matter of mentality,” she said. “Politicians don't care about the lives of their citizens and they don't want to change the system. Even if the economy improves, things will be much the same.”
Beppe Severgnini, a columnist for Corriere della Sera newspaper, agrees and sympathizes with Italian’s best and brightest who want to leave the country. In an editorial that appeared recently in the New York Times, Severgnini said he is worried about his 21-year-old son, Antonio.
“Not only is his generation of young Italians grappling with the longest economic slump in modern times, but they also have to deal with us, their fathers and mothers,” he wrote, referring to the huge health care costs associated with aging demographics in Italy.
Severgnini pointed out that in Italy, old age pensions now consume 14 percent of the country’s GDP and 57 percent of all social spending -- the highest such figures in all of Europe. He added that while two-fifths Italians between the ages of 15 to 24 are without work, the number of people above 55 who have jobs has actually increased to 3.5 million from 2.8 million in only the past five years.
Not surprisingly, he cites, nearly 400,000 college graduates have left Italy over the past ten years, replace by only 50,000 “similarly qualified foreigners” in that period.
“This is not the healthy, free movement of people that the European Union was set up to encourage,” he warned. “This is a nation on the run.”