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Exit Only: the brain drain continues, while there’s too much talk of pensions, as the interests of young people are largely overlooked

Exit Only” is the very fitting title of a book by Giulia Pastorella, a young manager who is at once very Milanese and very international (a degree from Oxford, specialist study at Sciences Po in Paris and at the London School of Economics), published by Laterza and written in order to document “what Italy is getting wrong with the qualified, highly-trained people that are fleeing the country”: namely, scarce recognition of merit, very little investment in high-level research and training, a low quality public administration, salaries that fail to reflect skills, and companies that are reluctant to let the most enterprising and talented young people move up the career ladder. As it currently stands, Italy, unfortunately, is not a country that can fulfil the hopes and dreams of the new generations. As such, these individuals are voting with their feet, and getting out while they can.

This phenomenon is widespread, and can be observed in many other European countries too, but here on home soil, it is aggravated by the fact that the majority of those with the greatest skills and ambitions leave Italy, and are not replaced by equal numbers of young people from other countries arriving in their place. To cut a long story short, then, Italy is losing precious human capital, even after having invested a huge amount in training.

The trouble is that even in these difficult times, as the Budget Law (which dictates many of the choices of the future) is being prepared, public discourse appears to be largely ignoring the fate of young people, work and much more. Instead, the focus is on the so-called “quota 100”, or in other words, on pensions and on people who want to leave the workforce ahead of the limits imposed by the Fornero law (an essential reform passed in 2011 with a view to maintaining both public finances and intra-generational equity).

The majority political parties (the Lega Nord first and foremost) and trade unions (with CGIL front and centre) are pushing early retirement, while others, turning their attention to young people, prefer to insist on welfarism (the so-called citizens’ income), whilst simultaneously failing to commit to active labour policies that can ensure more and better professional opportunities for the young men and women in search of good employment.

There’s a heavy atmosphere, and it is one which encourages this emigration of the “brains” of the country – it is, after all, the best way out of the “crisis of the future”. So it really is “Exit Only” for the “betrayed generation” (the latter is the hard-hitting title of a report on Italy’s young people, published in “La Stampa” on 28 October).

Let’s jog our memories with a few figures: “In 2019, a total of 70,000 people under the age of 40 left the country. In the last ten years, almost half a million young men and women have departed,” stated Economy Minister Daniele Franco during a ceremony at the Guardia di Finanza headquarters last week, before adding that “young people emigrate because the country is not growing much, and this in turn is partly because we don’t value these individuals; we fail to make full use of their energy and their talent. This is particularly true in the southern regions.”

Some more data as food for thought, then: Giulia Pastorella, in the book referred to above, reminds the reader that for the decade spanning 2008-2018, Italy was second in Europe in terms of the difference between graduates living abroad and at home. In other words, the rate of “brain drain” is faster than the rate of “brain production”. And speaking of the latter, the numbers are already too low: in Italy, only 17% of people hold a university degree, compared to the EU average of 30%.

This situation could now be subject to radical change, however, not least by making proper use of the resources made available by the EU’s Next Generation Recovery Plan (and well adapted into the Draghi government’s NRP, or National Recovery and Resilience Plan), channelling the money into high-quality training, innovation and sustainability.

As such, it is hard to argue against those who insist that we must stop discussing early retirement and turn our attention instead to active labour policies, to training, to welfare decisions and to new social security measures that can keep up with the trends of a rapidly-changing market. In the same vein, we must focus our efforts on rewriting a generational pact that seeks to bridge the chasm between the more protected social classes, with their trade unions (or in other words, those who currently hold permanent jobs, the majority of whom are men aged 50 or over, working in the civil service or in large companies) and the more disadvantaged workers, above all young people and women. All this in the awareness that at some point, we will also need to start addressing the issue of social security cover for the younger generations: when will they be able to retire, and with what kind of income? And how can we try to make supplementary pension schemes work?

Antonio Misiani, the Democratic Party’s Deputy Minister of Economy, puts it like this: “Young people must be the priority: many of them are at risk of ending up with pensions that will leave them on the breadline. To avoid this, we must really push people to contribute to pension funds, and introduce a minimum level.of subsistence. The freedom of choice of workers with regard to their retirement age should be extended, with an actuarial recalculation: those who leave early get less” (Corriere della Sera, 1 November). A serious discussion, then, and one which brings government, trade unions and companies to the table;the polar opposite of the propaganda on the “quota 100” pension scheme.

The debate should be focused around these key issues, keeping in mind that we are a country with a falling birth rate, destined to grow old (that is, unless we make forward-looking choices in favour of family), with an increasingly unbalanced relationship between the young and the old, people of working age and pensioners.

Otherwise, in the absence of long-term reforms and investments, young Italians will continue to leave in their droves. And despite its excellent capacity for enterprise, its creative culture and its brilliant design flair, Italy will be doomed to decline. A deeply unhappy downturn.

Exit Only” is the very fitting title of a book by Giulia Pastorella, a young manager who is at once very Milanese and very international (a degree from Oxford, specialist study at Sciences Po in Paris and at the London School of Economics), published by Laterza and written in order to document “what Italy is getting wrong with the qualified, highly-trained people that are fleeing the country”: namely, scarce recognition of merit, very little investment in high-level research and training, a low quality public administration, salaries that fail to reflect skills, and companies that are reluctant to let the most enterprising and talented young people move up the career ladder. As it currently stands, Italy, unfortunately, is not a country that can fulfil the hopes and dreams of the new generations. As such, these individuals are voting with their feet, and getting out while they can.

This phenomenon is widespread, and can be observed in many other European countries too, but here on home soil, it is aggravated by the fact that the majority of those with the greatest skills and ambitions leave Italy, and are not replaced by equal numbers of young people from other countries arriving in their place. To cut a long story short, then, Italy is losing precious human capital, even after having invested a huge amount in training.

The trouble is that even in these difficult times, as the Budget Law (which dictates many of the choices of the future) is being prepared, public discourse appears to be largely ignoring the fate of young people, work and much more. Instead, the focus is on the so-called “quota 100”, or in other words, on pensions and on people who want to leave the workforce ahead of the limits imposed by the Fornero law (an essential reform passed in 2011 with a view to maintaining both public finances and intra-generational equity).

The majority political parties (the Lega Nord first and foremost) and trade unions (with CGIL front and centre) are pushing early retirement, while others, turning their attention to young people, prefer to insist on welfarism (the so-called citizens’ income), whilst simultaneously failing to commit to active labour policies that can ensure more and better professional opportunities for the young men and women in search of good employment.

There’s a heavy atmosphere, and it is one which encourages this emigration of the “brains” of the country – it is, after all, the best way out of the “crisis of the future”. So it really is “Exit Only” for the “betrayed generation” (the latter is the hard-hitting title of a report on Italy’s young people, published in “La Stampa” on 28 October).

Let’s jog our memories with a few figures: “In 2019, a total of 70,000 people under the age of 40 left the country. In the last ten years, almost half a million young men and women have departed,” stated Economy Minister Daniele Franco during a ceremony at the Guardia di Finanza headquarters last week, before adding that “young people emigrate because the country is not growing much, and this in turn is partly because we don’t value these individuals; we fail to make full use of their energy and their talent. This is particularly true in the southern regions.”

Some more data as food for thought, then: Giulia Pastorella, in the book referred to above, reminds the reader that for the decade spanning 2008-2018, Italy was second in Europe in terms of the difference between graduates living abroad and at home. In other words, the rate of “brain drain” is faster than the rate of “brain production”. And speaking of the latter, the numbers are already too low: in Italy, only 17% of people hold a university degree, compared to the EU average of 30%.

This situation could now be subject to radical change, however, not least by making proper use of the resources made available by the EU’s Next Generation Recovery Plan (and well adapted into the Draghi government’s NRP, or National Recovery and Resilience Plan), channelling the money into high-quality training, innovation and sustainability.

As such, it is hard to argue against those who insist that we must stop discussing early retirement and turn our attention instead to active labour policies, to training, to welfare decisions and to new social security measures that can keep up with the trends of a rapidly-changing market. In the same vein, we must focus our efforts on rewriting a generational pact that seeks to bridge the chasm between the more protected social classes, with their trade unions (or in other words, those who currently hold permanent jobs, the majority of whom are men aged 50 or over, working in the civil service or in large companies) and the more disadvantaged workers, above all young people and women. All this in the awareness that at some point, we will also need to start addressing the issue of social security cover for the younger generations: when will they be able to retire, and with what kind of income? And how can we try to make supplementary pension schemes work?

Antonio Misiani, the Democratic Party’s Deputy Minister of Economy, puts it like this: “Young people must be the priority: many of them are at risk of ending up with pensions that will leave them on the breadline. To avoid this, we must really push people to contribute to pension funds, and introduce a minimum level.of subsistence. The freedom of choice of workers with regard to their retirement age should be extended, with an actuarial recalculation: those who leave early get less” (Corriere della Sera, 1 November). A serious discussion, then, and one which brings government, trade unions and companies to the table;the polar opposite of the propaganda on the “quota 100” pension scheme.

The debate should be focused around these key issues, keeping in mind that we are a country with a falling birth rate, destined to grow old (that is, unless we make forward-looking choices in favour of family), with an increasingly unbalanced relationship between the young and the old, people of working age and pensioners.

Otherwise, in the absence of long-term reforms and investments, young Italians will continue to leave in their droves. And despite its excellent capacity for enterprise, its creative culture and its brilliant design flair, Italy will be doomed to decline. A deeply unhappy downturn.