Italy is a country that works at two speeds. A significant feature of the Italian economy is the huge and persistent gap that exists between the north and south of the country. Per capita income in the north is almost double that of the south, according to the latest report by Italy's National Institute of Statistics (Istat). The per capita income of the southern regions is around 55-58 per cent that of the north-central regions of the country. The richest region is northern Trentino-Alto Adige, with €40,904 of GDP per capita, while southern Calabria ranks last, with €16,168.
Closing the stark differences between north and south is one of the most complex issues facing the country since unification in 1871. Already in the first decades of the life of the united Italy, institutions and experts began to analyze this phenomenon and to look for possible remedies, without much success, because the most recent data continue to reveal an increasingly marked gap. "The analyses of the gaps between the south and the center-north of the country that have occurred over time have systematically documented, on the one hand, the weakness of the southern productive system and, on the other, the deficiencies in infrastructures and public services that, together with the presence of criminal phenomena, contribute to hinder the economic development of the area," notes the Bank of Italy in its latest report of 2022. And he warns that his analyses paint an increasingly worrying picture, as "the differences have widened and the question of the south has become even more clearly part of a broader national problem."
Southern Italy has traditionally struggled to keep pace with the rest of the country, and has seen its economic weight progressively diminish. Some of its greatest burdens are the increasing difficulty in employing the available workforce, a reduction in capital accumulation or lower population growth compared to the more advanced areas of the country, where internal migratory flows are concentrated. "Southern Italy is the largest backward territory in the euro zone, which has suffered from the great crisis of 2008 and, more recently, the impact of the pandemic," the National Institute of Statistics sums it up. Southern Italy is expected to grow three times less this year than northern Italy.
The demographic decline and depopulation of the south, home to around 20 million people, a third of the country's total population, is of particular concern. Experts estimate that in 2023 the Italian population will be almost one million fewer people than in 2019, more than half of them in the southern regions alone.
The labour market figures are no more favourable. While in almost all the northern provinces, the employment rate reaches or exceeds 70%, in the south the number of employed people is barely around 40%. Inequalities also affect youth employment. In 2021, 8 out of 10 young people in the north were employed, compared to about 5 out of 10 in the south who were employed.
In the south of Italy, where the infrastructure network is also inferior to the north in quality and quantity, there is a significant lag in the level of education compared to the northern part of the country. Although this problem is improving in the younger generations, the disadvantage is still very wide. In 2022, 42.7% of secondary school students in the South had "very weak" proficiency in mathematics, compared to 15% in the North, and only 6.7% of Southern students had a "very good" level in this subject, compared to 22.6% of students in the North.
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