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Commentary. A new survey by Eurostat found that Italy leads eurozone countries in the proportion of people who turn to informal networks for work. This is the legacy so far of the Jobs Act, which was meant to help with job placement but has utterly failed.

82% of Italians depend on friends and family for work

Eight out of 10 Italians (81.9 percent) search for employment opportunities among friends and relatives. There is a great lack of confidence in public and private placement agencies because only one in four would turn to them as their first choice. The results for private (temporary) work agencies are even worse. Only 14.4 percent of job seekers say they make use of them, compared with 32.9 percent in France and 21 percent in the U.K., while in Germany the proportion is 12.7 percent.

According to a new Eurostat survey, this situation, which is already well known and has structural causes, has deteriorated markedly over the past decade. In 2007, before the economic crisis, the proportion of Italians seeking employment through friendships and social connections was 74 percent. There is an enormous gap between Italy and other European countries: In Germany, 38.1 percent are finding work in this manner, in the U.K. 45.1 percent, and in France 61.9 percent. The average among the E.U.-28 countries, measured for the second quarter of last year, is 68.9 percent.

This is a very high number, which points to an underlying trend: Job opportunities, paid less and less and with fewer and fewer protections, are being sought everywhere through informal connections. In Italy, this is done even more than in other places. We are not the only ones, but we are the most egregious exponents of an organic trend that is affecting the whole European labor market.

This is not coming from a decision by a particular person; rather, it is a structural phenomenon against which the Jobs Act “reform” failed to make any significant change, and probably will not going forward. Two and a half years after its launch, and one and a half months before the March 4 elections, this aspect should be taken into account when judging the bottom line of that failed project.

Its only “success” was not at all a “higher number of legally registered jobs,” the flagship promise of the reform, but rather the Poletti “reform,” which took out the limitations on the causes of termination from fixed-term contracts, producing an extraordinary increase in job insecurity. They wanted to “make work regular again,” and what they did was make it even more precarious. It is an ongoing political catastrophe, to which its protagonists, Renzi and the Democratic Party, seem to be paying no attention. They prefer to talk about other things entirely.

The remedy against the non-existent job placement services in Italy was supposed to be the “second leg of the Jobs Act,” that is, the National Agency for Active Policies (ANPAL), created in 2015 by the infamous Renzian “reform.” The agency, led by Maurizio Del Conte, a professor at Bocconi University, has had a long, incomplete and difficult gestation period, partially frozen by Renzi’s resounding defeat in the constitutional referendum on Dec. 4. This part of the “reform” was supposed to resolve the situation of the state and regions working at cross-purposes on job placement. This did not end up happening, and the ANPAL is continuing its fruitless attempt to navigate these troubled waters.

Poletti, the Minister of Labor, had a few remarks of his own regarding the survey data. “The Eurostat data has a whole history behind it,” he said. “You have to look at an element of the situation that actually has a positive value: the employment relationship is a relationship of trust.” So, “knowing someone, having a connection, is one of the elements that defines this situation.” He was not far from evoking his own memorable statement of March 27 urging the unemployed to play soccer.

“When it comes to work, more opportunities are found when playing a game of soccer than when sending CVs around,” he said. After all, where else can one earn “trust” than while kicking the ball around with other guys, with whom you can then hope to sign a temporary work contract, maybe for three months, maybe for less. Polletti didn’t say it out loud, and we need to commend him for biting his tongue this time. By now, with 40 days left to the end of his term, even he has managed to pick up some communication skills on the job.

Faced with the obvious problems of the current situation, the only thing Poletti has to offer is hope: “The important thing is that the public institutions are able to provide expertise, skills and infrastructure,” he said. “Habits change only if you’re able to offer the opportunity for them to do so. The path we have chosen is going in this direction, and this should be accelerated.” But the wait may be, indeed, for nothing.

The reality is that we are confronted with the legacy of the Jobs Act, which dusted off old concepts such as “requalification” or “alternative placement” for the unemployed, with the only innovation being that it placed them under the monitoring, control and governance of the ANPAL. This is the institution that Poletti touted in his opportunistic and would-be-inspirational speech.

The Eurostat data show rather that the neoliberal technologies that are meant to govern the workforce through “workfare” or “lifelong learning,” though still incomplete and only at an initial stage, are currently unable to elicit the people’s “trust”—a fundamental element, indeed, in an economy based on the promise of future work, on individual responsibility and on everyone being a self-made entrepreneur.

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