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In Italy, youth unemployment hovers around 35 percent


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    University researcher Luigi Maiorano

    - Stephen Beard

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    24 year old Christina Lupo

    - Stephen Beard

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    80 year old Rosario Nicoletti retired as a Professor  at Rome University at the age of 76

    - Stephen Beard

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    32 year old unemployed graduate Claudia Bernardi 

    - Stephen Beard

KAI RYSSDAL: All this week Stephen Beard has been making a grand tour of Europe of sorts. He's workin' -- reporting on the young and out of work on the continent. We're calling the series Jobless Generation, Because many of Europe's biggest economies have youth unemployment rates that you could fairly call astronomical. Italy is out of recession now, but business leaders there say the recovery will be slow and tough. Toughest of all perhaps for young Italians, whose unemployment rate is around 35 percent. From Rome, here's Stephen.

(sound of church bells) 

STEPHEN BEARD: The churches and the classical architecture are among of the glories of Italy. And so is the foundation stone of its society -- the strength and warmth of the family. But cracks are beginning to appear in that critical institution. Even the most loving families are under pressure from ever rising youth unemployment 

CHRISTINA LUPO: When I talk with my father, with my mother they can't understand our situation. They think that: find a job…it's really simple

BEARD: 24-year-old Christina Lupo has been unemployed or in unpaid work since graduating more than a year ago. Her parents support her, but now a little grudgingly now

LUPO: They say to me: you don't know how to find a job! You are a negative person. 

BEARD: Firing off five job applications a day, Christina finds the criticism hard to take -- from a generation that she says had an easier start in life

LUPA: My mother, after graduation -- after two weeks -- she found a job. For me it's impossible after two weeks of graduation. It's a dream. For our generation it's a dream.

BEARD: Other young Italians complain about older people hogging the jobs. They claim there's a fetish about seniority, that the nation is so much in love with antiquity, so intent on preserving its ancient ruins, that one of them is even running the country

LUIGI MAIORANO: We have a President that I personally like but he's 90, basically.

BEARD: University researcher Luigi Maiorano.

MAIORANI: Can't we find somebody who is 60 or so to be the President of the country? Don't we have anyone like that?

BEARD: Maiorano -- who's in his 30's -- has to hop from one short term contract to another. A permanent university job only comes with middle age. He says this emphasis on age rather than merit leads to higher youth unemployment and economic stagnation

BEARD: This not a meritocratic society in your view?

MAIORANO: No, Not the university and not the society. 

BEARD: The older generation is fighting back. 80 year old Rosario Nicoletti retired as a Professor at Rome University at the age of 76. He agrees that Italy is turning into a gerontocracy..But he says the young are partly to blame

ROSARIO NICOLETTI: The fault is also in the younger generation which are not able to replace the old people. The young are less and less skilled.

BEARD: He claims the country's record high youth unemployment is largely due to the callowness of many young Italians

NICOLETTI: The young generation live in an environment protected by their parents.

BEARD: You're saying the young have had it too easy?

NICOLETTI : Yeah, they have a too easy life. 

BEARD: More than half of all 18-34 year olds here are still living at home. "Bambioccini,"a government minister once called them. It means "Big Babies" or mollycoddled youth. Another minister accused the young unemployed of being too choosy in looking for their first job -- unprepared to get their hands dirty.

32-year-old unemployed graduate Claudia Bernardi

CLAUDIA BERNARDI: I'm not choosy!

BEARD: Would you wait at tables, would you work in a café, would you sweep floors?

BERNARDI: I already did it. And I don't understand that after 13 years of study I have to do it again.

BEARD: So why does she think she's too good for menial work?

BERNARDI: I'm too much qualified and maybe even too much smart to sweep the floor after having one degree, and one PhD. So maybe I am qualified for other work. 

BEARD: Thousands of young unemployed but highly qualified Italians HAVE flown the nest and gone to look for work abroad, in a more vibrant, flexible economy, in a city where youth is an advantage. Tomorrow we'll find out how some of them are faring -- in London. In Rome, I'm Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

About the author

Stephen Beard is the European bureau chief and provides daily coverage of Europe’s business and economic developments for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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