Istat depicts Italy hit by poverty, taxes and pollution

Almost one in four Italians in dire straits

11 February, 19:46

    (By Sandra Cordon) (ANSAmed) - ROME, FEBRUARY 11 - Almost one in four Italian households face serious financial hardship while taxes have risen to almost the highest levels in Europe, and about half of families live with air pollution, the national statistical agency Istat said Tuesday.

    In a sweeping report on 100 different measures of life in Italy in 2012, titled Noi Italia, the agency found a mixed picture: low employment and worsening economic productivity coupled with high levels of car ownership and falling levels of reading and interest in books.

    According to the report, 24.9% of households in 2012 were in a situation of "deprivation", meeting at least three of the agency's nine factors of economic hardship. These include the inability to meet unexpected expenses, falling behind in loan payments or being unable to afford a meal with a high protein content at least once every two days.

    Istat said the percentage of people in such deprivation had risen to 24.9% from the 22.3% reported in 2011, when Italy entered its longest postwar recession.

    Contributing to the economic problems is the growing tax burden in Italy that reached an average 44.1% of income paid in 2012 - almost as high as average levels in Sweden, said Istat.

    Sweden has been known for high tax levels to support an extensive social safety net.

    Italy's average tax levels have grown from 41.3% in 2000 to 42.5% in 2011.

    And paying those taxes has become increasingly difficult, as only about 61% of working-age adult Italians have jobs, well below the target of 75% employment set by the European Union, said Istat, which measured employment levels among people aged between 20 and 64 years.

    It also found that the level of women working in Italy is only about 50.5%, one of the worst in Europe, while about 71.6% of eligible men had jobs in 2012.

    The European average level of employment in 2012 was 68.5%.

    Italy also has one of the highest percentages of long-term unemployment, defined as being jobless for at least 12 months, noted Istat. Italy's figure was 52.5% of total unemployed versus 44.4% of EU average.

    The southern half of the country accounted for 59.8% of the long-term unemployed with about 37.6% in the north.

    Making matters worse, Istat found that Italy is the bottom of the list of European Union (EU) countries in terms of competitiveness of labour costs. The agency found that for every 100 euros an Italian business spent on labour costs in 2010, the most recent year in which there is comparative data for the rest of the EU, the added-value generated was 126%.

    This was lowest in the EU and far behind the figure of 211.7% for Romania, said Istat, which noted that Italy's labour-cost competitiveness improved in 2011, with every 100 euros of labour costs generating 128.5% of added value.

    In Italy, the competitiveness index lost nearly 10 points between 2001 to 2010, dropping from 135.8 to 126.1; in painful contrast to the European average index, which in 2010 was 144.8, down by only a single point from 2001.

    On social issues, Istat found that nearly four in 10 Italian families live with high levels of air pollution.

    Among the worst areas was the northern industrial region of Lombardy, base for Italy's major business capital city of Milan, with about 50.1% of families there affected.

    Nearby in the north-west region, the percentage fell to about 44.4% of households experiencing pollution. The rate fell even further to about 36.5% around Venice in the north-east and dropped to low levels of about 24.7% in the far north Trentino-Alto Adige region.

    In Italy's centre, the region of Lazio - where the Italian capital city of Rome is based - pollution levels reached as high as 43.6% while further south, the Campania region reported levels of 40.1% and Sicily was one of the lowest at 35.1%.

    Perhaps contributing to the pollution was the high rate of automobiles in Italy, one of the highest levels of ownership in the world at 62 cars per 100 inhabitants in 2012.

    That was also the second-highest among the member states of the European Union.

    The downside is traffic congestion due to relatively high density of vehicles, said Istat.

    On the social side, Istat found that Italy has a big population of non-readers, with only 43% of Italians saying they read one or more books in 2013.

    The percentage rose to 49.5% among people living in the centre-north, compared to 30.7% in the south. Almost half of women read at least one book last year, compared to 36.4% of men.

    Likewise just under 50% of Italians read a newspaper at least once a week, while the number of people who get their news from the Internet was on the rise. Cinema topped the list of favourite cultural activities, followed by visits to museums and exhibitions.

    Istat also found that Italy produces the most high-quality food products in Europe - excluding wines, Italy boasted 248 products sporting the EU's coveted Denomination of Protected Origin (DOP), Protected Geographic Indication (IGP), or Guaranteed Traditional Specialty (STG) seals.

    France came in a distant second at 192 such products, followed by Spain with 161. (ANSAmed).

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