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Young people flee the South for the North and Europe. reforms and investments are needed to reverse the trend

At the beginning of 2023, almost 6 million Italian people were living abroad, and of these 1.8 million are under 30 years old. Looking at it differently, we could say that 10.7% of Italian young people permanently resides in another country and more than half chose to live in a European city. In other words, Italy – already in the midst of a demographic crisis – continues to lose young people, who leave looking for better work and life conditions. In this respect, cities in the South of Italy have sadly set some negative records: Enna (477.5 per thousand inhabitants – five times the national average), Agrigento, Isernia, Potenza and then, after Belluno in the Veneto region, Caltanissetta, Vibo Valentia, Campobasso, Cosenza, Avellino… Pensioners are also fleeing from South-Italian cities: Enna, Vibo, Isernia, Campobasso, Agrigento, Avellino, Potenza…

Mantova, Rovigo and Lodi are also being deserted – Northern regions with a slower economic development. as well as Prato (where, however, Italian residents of Chinese origins are returning to their families in China).

The data provided by AIRE (l’Anagrafe degli italiani residenti all’estero, the Registry office for Italian citizens residing abroad), was analysed by the Italian Ministry of the Interior and disclosed by Il Sole24Ore (6 February), and reveals a rising trend: in 2006, AIRE counted 3.106 million people registered, now increased to 5.933 million – almost double – with 122,000 new registrations in 2022 (an increase of 2.2% as compared to 2021).

Further demographic movements are deserving of attention: for example, those showing that, in the past 10 years, the South of Italy lost over 500,000 residents in total, of which a large part included young people aged 25 to 34 years. This was reported by daily newspaper Domani (5 February), with the headline: “The true emergency in Italy is young people fleeing the South”.

We’re all aware of these figures, of course, evidence of a trend that has been going on for a long time. a severe social wound that hasn’t been adequately addressed by politicians. It’s worth keeping this wound in mind, as we discuss reforming differentiated autonomy as well as a better and greater integration with Europe, which demands we do all that is possible to close the gap between North and South, a gap that has dramaticallly widened over time (as SVIMEZ continues to report), and that a sensible use of PNRR (the Italian recovery and resilience plan) funds could help address.

Let’s look at some more data, to further understand the situation: in 1951, the per-capita GDP in the South amounted to 70% of that of the North; in the early 1990s, it fell to 60%; in 2020, to 55%: down to a half. And, focusing on the younger generations, while it’s true that 62% of the Italian people aged 25 to 34 years is employed, when shifting from national to regional average it becomes clear that 74% is employed in the North-West of Italy, 76% in the North-East and only 45.7% in the South. Basically, the national average – still lower than the European one – conceals deep regional disparities, a dramatic illustration of why the new generations of the South are fleeing to the North, as well as to other European countries.

An inequitable South is not at all conducive to Italy’s development and the integration with Europe; it’s useless, it doesn’t bring any benefits to the North, also because it hinders and warps the productivity and competitiveness of the whole country; it exacerbates inequalities and social hardship; it’s a huge obstacle to choices related to sustainable, environmental and social development territorial entrepreneurial association Confindustria is well aware of all this, and has in fact included it as a crucial item in its policies and corporate strategies.

Hence, we need key political choices that will support the growth of the South with tangible and intangible infrastructure, productive investments, ambitious training plans to tackle the challenges brought on by the digital and environmental twin transition and new opportunities for the widespread use of Artificial Intelligence. Indeed, the South’s historical know-how and geographical location at the heart of the Mediterranean region – which is acquiring increasing geopolitical relevance – are features that must be highlighted in a European strategy aimed at boosting the Italian recovery.

How beneficial such a strategy – and differentiated regional autonomy – could be, it’s too early to say, but policies concerning industry, taxes, research, training and infrastructure must certainly become part of a unified plan that, endorsed by the EU, looks to the world.

Indeed, what the South needs, in order to attract investments and enhance its potential (human capital included, whose mass migration – or “brain drain” – should not just be seen as inevitable), is “good governance”.instead of complaints, resentment, Neo-Bourbon nostalgia and cronyism.

The political history of the South could help us better understand the situation, and, in this regard, it’s worth rereading, for example, the speeches and government programmes of one of the best politicians the South ever had: Piersanti Mattarella, President of the Sicilian region at the end of the 1970s. A man whose decisions – including reforms, justice and proper administration – centred on Sicily, who aimed to situate it within a dialogue involving the best Italian economic and social powers, to turn it into a region rife with innovative industrial settlements, skilled labour and cutting-edge culture. His words were silenced by mafia violence, but continue to be deeply relevant.

(Photo Getty Images) 

At the beginning of 2023, almost 6 million Italian people were living abroad, and of these 1.8 million are under 30 years old. Looking at it differently, we could say that 10.7% of Italian young people permanently resides in another country and more than half chose to live in a European city. In other words, Italy – already in the midst of a demographic crisis – continues to lose young people, who leave looking for better work and life conditions. In this respect, cities in the South of Italy have sadly set some negative records: Enna (477.5 per thousand inhabitants – five times the national average), Agrigento, Isernia, Potenza and then, after Belluno in the Veneto region, Caltanissetta, Vibo Valentia, Campobasso, Cosenza, Avellino… Pensioners are also fleeing from South-Italian cities: Enna, Vibo, Isernia, Campobasso, Agrigento, Avellino, Potenza…

Mantova, Rovigo and Lodi are also being deserted – Northern regions with a slower economic development. as well as Prato (where, however, Italian residents of Chinese origins are returning to their families in China).

The data provided by AIRE (l’Anagrafe degli italiani residenti all’estero, the Registry office for Italian citizens residing abroad), was analysed by the Italian Ministry of the Interior and disclosed by Il Sole24Ore (6 February), and reveals a rising trend: in 2006, AIRE counted 3.106 million people registered, now increased to 5.933 million – almost double – with 122,000 new registrations in 2022 (an increase of 2.2% as compared to 2021).

Further demographic movements are deserving of attention: for example, those showing that, in the past 10 years, the South of Italy lost over 500,000 residents in total, of which a large part included young people aged 25 to 34 years. This was reported by daily newspaper Domani (5 February), with the headline: “The true emergency in Italy is young people fleeing the South”.

We’re all aware of these figures, of course, evidence of a trend that has been going on for a long time. a severe social wound that hasn’t been adequately addressed by politicians. It’s worth keeping this wound in mind, as we discuss reforming differentiated autonomy as well as a better and greater integration with Europe, which demands we do all that is possible to close the gap between North and South, a gap that has dramaticallly widened over time (as SVIMEZ continues to report), and that a sensible use of PNRR (the Italian recovery and resilience plan) funds could help address.

Let’s look at some more data, to further understand the situation: in 1951, the per-capita GDP in the South amounted to 70% of that of the North; in the early 1990s, it fell to 60%; in 2020, to 55%: down to a half. And, focusing on the younger generations, while it’s true that 62% of the Italian people aged 25 to 34 years is employed, when shifting from national to regional average it becomes clear that 74% is employed in the North-West of Italy, 76% in the North-East and only 45.7% in the South. Basically, the national average – still lower than the European one – conceals deep regional disparities, a dramatic illustration of why the new generations of the South are fleeing to the North, as well as to other European countries.

An inequitable South is not at all conducive to Italy’s development and the integration with Europe; it’s useless, it doesn’t bring any benefits to the North, also because it hinders and warps the productivity and competitiveness of the whole country; it exacerbates inequalities and social hardship; it’s a huge obstacle to choices related to sustainable, environmental and social development territorial entrepreneurial association Confindustria is well aware of all this, and has in fact included it as a crucial item in its policies and corporate strategies.

Hence, we need key political choices that will support the growth of the South with tangible and intangible infrastructure, productive investments, ambitious training plans to tackle the challenges brought on by the digital and environmental twin transition and new opportunities for the widespread use of Artificial Intelligence. Indeed, the South’s historical know-how and geographical location at the heart of the Mediterranean region – which is acquiring increasing geopolitical relevance – are features that must be highlighted in a European strategy aimed at boosting the Italian recovery.

How beneficial such a strategy – and differentiated regional autonomy – could be, it’s too early to say, but policies concerning industry, taxes, research, training and infrastructure must certainly become part of a unified plan that, endorsed by the EU, looks to the world.

Indeed, what the South needs, in order to attract investments and enhance its potential (human capital included, whose mass migration – or “brain drain” – should not just be seen as inevitable), is “good governance”.instead of complaints, resentment, Neo-Bourbon nostalgia and cronyism.

The political history of the South could help us better understand the situation, and, in this regard, it’s worth rereading, for example, the speeches and government programmes of one of the best politicians the South ever had: Piersanti Mattarella, President of the Sicilian region at the end of the 1970s. A man whose decisions – including reforms, justice and proper administration – centred on Sicily, who aimed to situate it within a dialogue involving the best Italian economic and social powers, to turn it into a region rife with innovative industrial settlements, skilled labour and cutting-edge culture. His words were silenced by mafia violence, but continue to be deeply relevant.

(Photo Getty Images)