Career Economy

There is work, but it is poor: the data contradicts the government

For months the government has insisted on the presence of job opportunities and on the presumed reluctance of many Italians to accept them. A narrative that has become current again with the abolition of citizenship income, but which does not take into consideration many fundamental variables, starting from wages

In the days of great chaos , for the abolition of citizenship income, the Government’s mantra is always the same. As its exponents have been repeating for months: there is work in Italy , you just have to look for it. The narrative is that economic prospects have greatly improved in recent times and everyone is called to get back into the game. The involuntary assistance to this “argument” comes from the latest Istat surveys on employment. 

According to data from our National Institute of Statistics, the unemployment rate in Italy is decreasing. It fell in June to 7.3% (0.2 percentage points less than the previous month and 1.4 points less than January 2022). Youth and female employment is also growing and the inactive are decreasing. So everything is fine? To give the statistics a perspective it is perhaps appropriate to break them down and begin to understand what we are talking about when we talk about work in Italy. 

Because wages in Italy have been a problem for more than 30 years 

Italian wages have decreased in real terms (we are therefore talking about purchasing power net of inflation) by 12% compared to 2008. This was certified by the ILO, the International Labor Organization. The mix that distinguishes our economy is that of having wages that have remained stable for almost 30 years, a unique case compared to other European economies, and a labor productivity lower than that of many other developed countries. The result is, more often than not, that of companies that create profits thanks to the systematic lowering of labor costs. A small idea can be obtained by looking at the latest INPS data available on employed workers.

The data in the graph refers to the latest INPS survey, relating to 2021 and takes into consideration only private sector employees. 16.5% of Italian workers had an income that did not reach 5 thousand euros a year, while that of 40% of employed people did not exceed 15 thousand. A dynamic that fuels the phenomenon of poor families (and minors). Families in a state of absolute poverty amounted to 7.5% of the total in Italy in 2022, an increase of four percentage points compared to 2004. In the South, one in 10 families is poor. 

And low wages are also affected by the types of contracts that have proliferated in recent years in the country and which, if on the one hand they offer flexibility, on the other heavily penalize many categories of workers, starting with women and young people. 

Atypical work makes you poor

In Italy almost 3 million workers are precarious, that is, they have a fixed-term contract. About half a million, however, are seasonal. And the number of this type of employee has increased steadily over the years.

Click here  if you don’t see the graph)

Breaking down the data in the graph you can see above, we discover that the majority of temporary workers are young and women. In particular, almost half of workers under 30 have a precarious contract in Italy, a record that has no equivalent in Europe and which affects whether or not they want to start a family, for example. Because generally precarious work is much less paid than permanent work. 

The average gross salary of a fixed-term employee was approximately 9,634 euros per year in 2021, that of a seasonal employee was 6,425 euros, compared to the average of 26,285 for those with a permanent contract. Precarity therefore automatically means more poverty, but it is not the only characteristic that tends to keep wages low. The other is called involuntary part-time, i.e. forms of part-time work not chosen independently by workers, but by companies.

There are over 3 and a half million part-time workers in Italy. Even in their case the salary difference with permanent employees is evident. And even in this case we are an exception in Europe, as can be seen from the graph below.

Click here  if you don’t see the graph)

If Italy is in line with other European countries regarding the number of part-time workers, the same cannot be said regarding the people who choose it voluntarily. In Italy, 77% of men and over half of women who have part-time work have not chosen it. He found himself accepting it out of pure necessity, for lack of anything else, as Eurostat data shows us. According to statistics, these are “employed”. In reality they are often precarious workers who often struggle to make ends meet. And some of them have probably relied on citizens’ income to supplement starvation wages. 

Citizenship income as an integration tool

The fact that is ignored by many is that almost 20% of citizens’ income recipients (18.8% to be precise) had a job, at least according to last summer’s data provided by Anpal (the national agency of labor policies). We are talking about 130 thousand people. Half of them had a permanent contract, but they received too low an income which was supplemented by the subsidy. Then there is the problem of who is truly employable and who is not. And how the abolition of income will have repercussions on a labor market characterized by very low wages. 

Demonstration in Rome against the abolition of citizenship income (Photo by Cecilia Fabiano / LaPresse)

In June 2022 just 13% of income earners had had a contract (of any type) in the previous year and only 27% in the previous three years. The majority, around 73%, had in fact never worked in the last three years and found themselves in a situation of structural exclusion from the world of work. The vast majority (more than 70%) had only a lower secondary education qualification.

We are therefore talking about people who, given the current job market, are difficult to employ and would need robust training interventions and income supplement tools. The government has instead decided to lower subsidies for both the “non-employable” and the “employable”. Those deemed “able for work” will in fact have to follow   hypothetical training projects  that have not yet been defined, receiving a rather low monthly allowance.

No mention of the reform of employment centers or of structural commitments to deal with the training of those who have been excluded for years. And with the abolition of income, and the absence of a basic minimum wage, there is the risk that many of them will accept jobs with starvation wages, thus further fueling the phenomenon of poor work. What is (almost) never detected by official statistics. But which is experienced daily by millions of Italians. 

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