Report. New data from the Italian research agency ISTAT reveals the unequal consequences of a pandemic that has profoundly changed the way we live our lives: touching everything from how long we live, when we retire, how much we read and the education of our children.

Italy after COVID-19 is increasingly unequal, but more cohesive and civic

A poorer country, but a more cohesive one. Post-lockdown Italy is a country shocked by the pandemic, but the heavy economic consequences have, in turn, awakened civic solidarity in a large part of the population. This is the picture that emerges from ISTAT’s Annual Report for 2020, which this year, for obvious reasons, has had to increase its research efforts and place further emphasis on the first half of this year, leaving the previous year in the background.

The second quarterly mortality report for the year, presented by the Lega-nominated head of ISTAT, Gian Carlo Blangiardo, to the Chamber of Deputies, was defined by the part covering COVID-19. Alongside the known data—the increase in mortality, particularly in Lombardy in March—there were remarkable new conclusions arising from analysis: “The increase in mortality has penalized the less educated population more: the standardized mortality ratio—which measures the excess death of the less educated compared to the more educated—is at around 1.3 for men and 1.2 for women.”

The high number of deaths due to COVID-19 will also have an impact on life expectancy: “at birth, it fell to 82.11 years (-0.87), and on one’s 65th birthday, it fell from 20.89 years to 20.02.” In a cynical view, this might have a positive effect on the retirement age, since at the end of 2021 almost the whole of the Fornero reform will come back into force, which would enact an increase in the retirement age due to the link with life expectancy.

ISTAT’s research analyzed the Italians’ behavior during the months of lockdown. “Strong cohesion was the hallmark,” with “high trust in the main institutions: on a scale from 0 to 10, citizens gave 9 to medical and paramedical staff and 8.7 to the Civil Protection.”

“The overwhelming majority of citizens, across the whole country, followed the established rules, especially washing their hands (on average 11.6 times in a day), disinfecting their hands (5 times per day), respecting the physical distance (92.4% of the population).” There was also a “strong increase in reading, for 62.6% of the population. 26.9% read books, 40.9% read newspapers.”

The report contains very interesting data on the situation in the health sector in the period before engaging in the fight against the pandemic.

  • “From 2010 to 2018, the drop in staff numbers was 4.9%, and affected both doctors (-3.5%) and nurses (-3.0%).”
  • “Italy has 39 doctors for every 10,000 residents, a considerably lower number than Germany, which has 42.5. The comparison is even more unfavorable when looking at the nursing staff: 58 per 10,000 residents compared to 129.”
  • “The supply of hospital beds from 1995 to 2018 has almost halved: from 356,000, equal to 6.3 per 1,000 inhabitants, to 211,000, equal to 3.5 beds per 1,000 inhabitants. In the EU, the average number of beds per thousand is 5.0, while in Germany this rises to 8.”

We read with great concern the section about the devastating results of the confinement measures in strategic areas, as well as the price paid so far by the education system, effectively “mortgaged” and for which the bill will come due in the coming months.

There is a long and detailed chapter on the effects of school closures: they have led to “an increase in inequalities among children: in the two-year period of 2018-2019, 12.3% of children between 6-17 years old (850,000) did not have a PC or tablet, while the share rose to 19% in the South. The disadvantage increases if combined with socio-economic status: more than a third of children living in southern Italy in families with a low level of education did not have a PC or tablet. 45.4% of students aged 6-17 years (3,100,000) have difficulties in distance learning due to the lack of IT devices in the family.”

In addition, “housing overcrowding in Italy is higher than in the rest of Europe (27.8% compared to 15.5%), especially for 12-17 year olds (47.5% compared to 25.1%).”

“It is estimated that the organizational shock from COVID-19 may have affected at least 853,000 families with children under 15 years of age; among these groups, there are 581,000 families with parents employed in sectors that remained active even during the lockdown phase.”

We have fought the epidemic with tenacity, thanks to a broad and intense mobilization that has seen institutions, businesses and families united, which are now getting back on the road to recovery.

When it comes to labor, the picture is bleak. The rate of undeclared work is higher among women, in the South, and among very young workers: 23.8% in agriculture, 16.0% in construction and 13.9% in services, with peaks of 17.1% in hotels and public establishments, 23.8% in recreational activities and no less than 58.3% in domestic work.

In the difficult economic situation generated by the measures to combat the pandemic, “about 2.1 million families (over 6 million individuals) have at least one undeclared job; half of them, just over one million, have only undeclared work.”

In general, “for the younger generation, the probability of upward social mobility has decreased: for 26.6% of those born in the last generation (1972-1986), their condition is trending downwards, eclipsing for the first time the percentage of those whose condition is improving, 24.9%: more and more children have a lower economic condition than their parents.”

Remote work—let’s stop calling it “smart working”—could be a solution. According to ISTAT, after the experience of the lockdown, this can be used by as many as “8.2 million of those employed (35.7%) whose professions allow for it; this drops to 7 million if we exclude the professions for which, in normal conditions, it is nonetheless preferable to be present at the workplace (for example, teachers).”

The drop in birth rates may be further accelerated in the post-COVID period. According to ISTAT, “the climate of uncertainty and fear will produce a drop of 10,000 births, a third of this corresponding to 2020 and two thirds to 2021.” The outlook is even more negative taking into account the effects of the shock on employment: births are set to fall to around 426,000 in 2020, and then to 396,000 in 2021.

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