Bad Stats

Italy’s Statistics Make It Look Like a Third World

Though culturally rich, the country is plagued by problems with the economy, education, domestic violence, and more, writes Barbie Latza Nadeau.

Italy may be rich in cultural heritage and boast the seventh largest economy in the world, but the country’s social statistics are more in line with those of a developing third-world nation. By almost every standard of measure in sectors from women’s rights and youth employment, Italy scores far below the mark. The country has been weighted down by recession, but money is not entirely to blame. In fact, Italy’s economic situation has steadily improved under the leadership of technocrat Prime Minister Mario Monti, but the country has still received a barrage of global criticism recently.

According to Italy’s national statistics agency ISTAT’s annual report, unemployment is highest at 36.5 percent among young workers under 24–over one million people in this age bracket are out of work. And surprisingly, those with university degrees are far more likely to be unemployed than those who quit school or never attend college–mostly because they are more willing to work without contracts in unskilled labor fields. Women have it worse than men. Not only are do they make on average 15 percent less than men, they least likely to be employed–in the southern regions of the country, six out of ten women are out of the job market. Many are also living in life-threatening domestic situations. More than 120 Italian women were killed in domestic violence attacks in 2012, breaking down to one murder every three days. The situation is so dire that last fall, the United Nations Human Rights Council warned Italy that it needed to put domestic violence on the national agenda, yet few policies exist to try to call attention or reeducate men that women are equal or to bolster social programs to get women to safety.

Even basic living standards leave a lot to be desired, although a full 72.4 percent of Italian families own the house they live in. Still, only 56 percent of Italian families have a computer at home; 45.3 percent have a dishwasher, and just 33.4 percent have air conditioning even though Italian summers are among the hottest in Europe.

Sadly, the future doesn’t look bright. In 2011–12, enrollment in university and high school is dwindling. Italy’s dropout rates for high school are the fourth-highest in Europe at 18.8 percent. Those who do make it to college often don’t finish. Only 56 of every 100 university students complete their degree, according to the ISAT report card.

Non-Italians living in the country are also faring poorly. In December, Amnesty International condemned Italy for what it called racist “widespread” and “endemic” exploitation of immigrants. On average, they are paid 40 percent less than Italians–if they are paid at all. Situations of indentured servitude exist across the nation, with migrants working for their room and board yet forced to live in inhumane conditions. Many live in the country illegally, which means they are too afraid to ask police for help or to seek medical care when they are sick and injured. Amnesty International estimates that around half a million foreign nationals live illegally in Italy. “Immigrants are an essential part of the population, the labor force and a source of vital energy for an aging society,” Italy’s president Giorgio Napolitano said in response to the report, which he called misguided. “Still, we have work to do to make life better.”

“The situation in Italy is not easy. There are too many centers of power where everybody blocks everything,” Renzo Rosso, founder of Diesel Jeans said recently, campaigning to bolster enthusiasm for change in the country. “Our infrastructure isn't working and we've got corruption all over.”

Change will come, but it doesn’t guarantee improvement. Italy has been without an elected leader since November 2011, when Silvio Berlusconi resigned and Monti was appointed to lead the country. Italian voters head to the polls in February 2013 to elect a new leader, but it is unlikely that addressing the standard of living represented in these statistics will be on the agenda since only statisticians are talking about the problem so far.