We The Italians | Italy. A square wheel that doesn't turn

Italy. A square wheel that doesn't turn

Italy. A square wheel that doesn't turn

  • WTI Magazine #134 Dec 17, 2020
  • 134

Censis (Centro Studi Investimenti Sociali) has been producing for 54 years a constant and articulated research, advice and technical assistance in the socio-economic development.

This business has developed over the years through the implementation of studies on the social, economic and territorial development, intervention programs and cultural initiatives in the vital areas of the Italian society: education, work and representation, welfare and health care, the territory and the nets, economic actors, media and communication, public governance, security and citizenship. The annual "Report on the social situation of the country", yearly prepared by Censis since 1967, is considered the most qualified and complete tool for the interpretation of the Italian society.

Italy? A square wheel that does not spin

Italy is a square wheel that does not spin: it advances with difficulty, subdividing each rotation into four units, with an inhuman effort for every quarter of a turn made, amidst heavy thudding and hesitation. Never had it been seen so well as during this exceptional year, under the blows of the epidemic. Without a Churchill to lead the way in the darkest hour, capable of being the glue of communities, our individualistic model has been the virus' best ally, along with long-standing social problems, political brawling and inter-institutional conflicts. One of the effects of the epidemic is that it has covered under the blanket of fear and behind the reactions triggered by the state of alarm our long-standing vulnerabilities and structural flaws, fully evident today in the weaknesses of the system - the epidemic has torn the veil: the king is naked! - and ready to reappear the day after the end of the emergency more serious than before.

Better servants than dead: the limited sovereignty lives of Italians and the dross of the epidemic

Scared, hurt, undecided between resentment and hope: this is Italy in the year of black fear. 73.4% of Italians indicate fear of the unknown and the resulting anxiety as the prevailing sentiment. This leads to the ultimate dichotomy: "better servants than dead". The securitizing tension has produced an amputated relationality and a vertical collapse of the "GDP of sociality". The State is the lifesaver to cling to in the greatest danger. 57.8% of Italians are willing to give up their personal freedoms in the name of protecting collective health, leaving to the government the decisions on when and how to leave the house, on what is authorized and what is not, on the people they can meet and on limitations to personal mobility. 38.5% are ready to give up their civil rights for greater economic well-being, accepting limits on the right to strike, freedom of opinion and to join unions and associations. 77.1% call for severe punishment for those who do not wear respiratory protection masks, do not respect social distancing or assembly bans. 76.9% are convinced that those who have erred in the emergency, whether politicians, health managers or others, must pay for their mistakes. 56.6% even call for prison for those infected who do not strictly respect quarantine rules. 31.2% do not want those who, because of their irresponsible behavior, have fallen ill to be cured (or want them to be cured only later, at the rear of the others). And for 49.3% of young people, it is right that the elderly be cared for only after them. In addition to the cyclopean public debt, the epidemic's dross will be many. Among ancient resentments and new anxieties and discontents, even a measure as unspeakable to Italian society as the death penalty returns to the sphere of the practicable: surprisingly, almost half of Italians (43.7%) are in favor of its introduction into our legal system (and the figure rises to 44.7% among young people).

Floppy New Year’s eve

Yes to the crackdown on the holidays: in view of Christmas and New Year's Eve, 79.8% of Italians ask not to relax restrictions or tighten them. The 54,6% will spend less for the gifts to put under the tree, the 59,6% will cut the expenses for the dinner of the last of the year. For 61.6%, the New Year's Eve party will be sad and resigned. It’s not true that everything’s going to be fine: 44.8% of Italians are convinced that we will come out worse from the pandemic (only 20.5% believe that this experience will make us better).

Personal destinies diverted: the guaranteed and the non-guaranteed

For 85.8% of Italians, the health crisis has confirmed that the real social division is between those who have job and income security and those who do not. Above all, the absolutely guaranteed, the 3.2 million public employees. To which must be added the 16 million pensioners - a large part of whom have provided economic aid to children and grandchildren in difficulty: an informal "silver welfare". Then we enter the quicksand: the private sector with no certain protection. 53.7% of those employed in small businesses live with job insecurity, for whom the descent into the underworld of unemployment is not a remote event, compared to a more contained 28.6% of those employed in large companies. Then there is the phalanx of the most vulnerable: employees in the private sector on fixed-term contracts and freelance professionals. Then there is the universe of the disappeared, that of the small jobs in the services and of the illegal work, estimated at about 5 million people who have ended up sinking without a sound. Finally, the unexpectedly vulnerable: entrepreneurs in crashed sectors, tradesmen, artisans, and professionals who have been left without income and turnover. In the magmatic world of self-employment, only 23% continued to earn the same household incomes as before Covid-19. If the degree of protection of work and income is the key to salvation, then almost 40% of Italians today say that, after the epidemic, starting a business, opening a store or a professional studio is a gamble and - in the country of self-employment - only 13% still consider it an opportunity.

The bonus economy, or rather the thousand faces of ad personam subsidies

In October, the subsidies provided by INPS (the social security agency) involved an audience of over 14 million beneficiaries, with an expenditure of over 26 billion euros. It is as if a quarter of the Italian population had received an average of almost 2,000 euros per person. The positive evaluation of bonuses is very high among young people (83.9%), more so than among the elderly (65.7%). For the latter, it is a mechanism that can generate dependence (25.1%) and risks sending the public debt out of control (18.1%). But only 17.6% of business owners believe that support measures will be sufficient to counter the economic consequences of the emergency.

Additional precautionary cash injections: how households immunize themselves from risk

In the second quarter, GDP fell by 18% in real terms compared to last year, household consumption by 19.2%, investments by 22.9%, exports by 31.5%. Then the cyclical rebound in the third quarter softened the blow. But compared to December 2019, in June 2020, household liquidity (cash and demand deposits) increased by 41.6 billion euros (+3.9% in six months) and now exceeds 1 trillion. The rush for liquidity is evident in the parallel collapse of resources poured into equities (-63.1 billion in the same period, -6.8%), bonds (-11.2 billion, -4.6%), mutual funds (-23.1 billion, -5%). Cash weighed in at 32.9% of Italians' financial portfolios in June 2019 and rose to 34.5% in June 2020. 66% of Italians are keeping themselves ready for new emergencies by adopting precautionary behaviors: putting money aside and avoiding taking on debt. Also because 75.4% consider state aid insufficient or late.

Jobs plummet and productivity lacks momentum: young people and women foot the bill

Compared to last year, 457,000 jobs were lost by young people and women in the third quarter, 76% of the total number of jobs lost (605,000). And 654,000 self-employed workers or those on temporary contracts are no longer employed. In the second quarter of the year, young people aged 15-34 were particularly hard hit in certain sectors: hotels and restaurants (more than half of the 246,000 fewer people employed in the sector than in the same period last year), industry in the strict sense (-80,000), real estate, professional and business services (-80,000), and trade (-56,000). And the inequality in the possibility of resisting the loss of a job once again sees women as the most disadvantaged segment. In the second quarter, the employment rate, which for men reached 66.6%, showed a gap of over 18 points to the disadvantage of women. In the 15-34 age group, only 32 out of every 100 women are employed or seeking employment. For women aged 25-49, the employment rate is 71.9% among those without children, only 53.4% among those with pre-school children. And between 2008 and 2019, labor productivity in Italy increased just 0.1%.

The erosion of two pillars of the social architrave: freelancing and representation

Just under 4 million self-employed workers had access to the €600 benefit. 1.4 million merchants, 1.2 million artisans and about 300,000 direct farmers and others engaged in agricultural activities represent three quarters of the total number of beneficiaries (about 3 million) who were able to obtain compensation for loss of income during the emergency. Total expenditure for these categories is around 1.7 billion euros, just under 74% of the total of 2.3 billion.

Rich and poor: the dividing impact of the virus

90.2% of Italians are convinced that the emergency and lockdown have hurt the most vulnerable people and widened social inequalities. There are just 40,949 Italians who declare an income exceeding 300,000 euros per year, with an average of 606,210 euros per capita. They correspond to 0.1% of the total number of those who pay taxes. While there are 1,496,000 people with wealth in excess of one million dollars (approximately 840,000 euros): they are equal to 3% of Italian adults, but possess 34% of the country's wealth.

Old deficits and new pressures on healthcare

Under the dramatic thrust of the succession of newly infected people in serious condition, in May intensive care beds had risen from 8.7 per 100,000 inhabitants in the pre-Covid-19 phase to 15.3. After years of public spending cuts, the extraordinary opportunity to revitalize the healthcare system lies in the unprecedented availability of resources. With the "Relaunch" decree of May, the Government allocated 3.2 billion euros to the reorganization of public health, of which almost 1.5 billion for the reorganization of the hospital network and approximately 1.2 billion for territorial assistance.

The school of the excluded

Only 11.2% of the more than 2,800 school managers interviewed by Censis confirmed that they had succeeded in involving all students in their teaching. In 18% of the institutes, in April, more than 10% of students were missing. 53.6% of principals maintain that distance learning does not fully involve students with special educational needs. 37.4% are concerned that they will not be able to implement projects to combat educational poverty and prevent early school leaving. Among the more than 800,000 non-Italian students, those most at risk are the first generation (about 47% of the total), who encounter greater difficulties for linguistic and cultural reasons. There is also a type of student for whom the social relations established in the classroom are irreplaceable: students with disabilities (approximately 270,000 in state schools alone) or with specific learning disorders (approximately 276,000).

The crisis of the historical centers and the turmoil of the real estate market

Even for real estate it is a period of deep uncertainty, in particular for the office and commercial segment. In great growth the logistics sector, while for now the residential, even in the face of a significant decline in trade, records an increase in prices in the second quarter of 2020: +3.4% compared to the same period of 2019. On the residential rental front inevitably the demand for rooms and beds has collapsed.

What will be left after the state of exception? The networks that supported us

The network that, more than any other, has seen a revolution in individual behavior has been the Internet. According to a Censis survey, 87% of citizens declared that they had used the fixed internet connection at home in the emergency and that it was sufficient. Less than 10% complained of a lack of adequate bandwidth. Upgrades to higher performance connections were limited (7.4%). Cell phone data connections were also used in more than half of the cases. More than 70% of citizens said they had the basic skills needed to carry out all online activities. However, a critical point seems clear: the older generation is the one that for a third (32.6%) completely excludes itself from the digital world.

Remote living

It can be estimated that nearly 43 million people over the age of 18 (including at least 3 million novices) have stayed in touch with their friends and family through video calling systems using the Internet. The lockdown generated new users and bolstered the use of the network by those already experienced. But at least one-quarter of the population has at some point gone down. Even a third of younger people, after initial enthusiasm for using digital communication systems, grew tired of making and receiving video calls.

The return of the short range: second homes and proximity tourism

In the months of July and August, the total volume of passenger traffic at the country's top 20 airports decreased by about 69% compared to the same period in 2019. The drop was 44.4% for domestic flights and 79.7% for international flights. According to a Censis survey, 24% of Italians have at least one other home located in a municipality other than their place of residence. The proportion of households with access to a second home stands at 18% among low-medium level families and exceeds 40% among medium-high level families. Thirty-four percent of households report greater use in 2020 than in the past. The main motivation is a greater sense of security (36%), then the forced renunciation of foreign vacations, a motivation more prevalent among the upper-middle class (26%), and at the other end of the spectrum, the need to reduce non-essential expenses in a difficult economic climate (22% in the lower-middle income bracket).

Europe: a common home or the spectre of external constraint?

Only 28% of Italians have confidence in EU institutions, compared to an EU average of 43%: we are last in the European ranking. However, the perception of EU institutions in the collective imagination of Italians remains positive for 31%, and negative for 29%. However, 58% of Italians say they are dissatisfied with the measures adopted at EU level to combat the Covid-19 crisis (a percentage higher than the EU average: 44%).