Youth work, first step for the birth rate

By Alfredo Caltabiano, from the Italian Large Families Association

There are some singularly striking data, which, when put in relation to each other, give us an extremely clear picture, which paradoxically no one has yet highlighted to the right extent.

Let us start with the first element.

The issue of the birth deficit, of ever fewer births, of the gradual ageing and reduction of the population, is an established theme that the National Association of Large Families has been discussing since it was founded in 2005.

It is only now that it is beginning to be perceived, but strong responses are still lacking, that ‘Marshall Plan’ that is absolutely necessary to get the birth rate going again.

In the meantime, every year the birth figures continue to worsen.

With regard to the second element, relating to the poverty of families with more than one child and the generational poverty that characterises young people, ANFN had already pointed out in 2016 in the article ‘The Re-birth of Italy: Children, Youth and Family’, how the 0-34 age group has progressively become poorer at the expense of the over-65 generation.

The poorest people in Italy are in the youngest age group. These concepts were reiterated in the speech entitled ‘Relationships between poverty and demography and possible interventions’ on 14 July 2021 at the seminar on the demographic issue organised by the National Observatory on the Family.

The same conclusions are drawn by Openpolis in its article published on 14 December 2021.

We now come to the third element, starting both from the ISTAT publication of 23 December 2021 on youth employment, but above all from the interview given to Il Sole 24 Ore on 6 January by the EU commissioner for the economy, Nicola Schmit, in which he highlights the critical situation of Italy, which has one of the worst EU values in terms of employment of women:

  • employment of women
  • percentage of early school leavers
  • share of NEETs (those not in education, training or employment)
  • unemployment rate
  • level of early school leavers
  • available per capita level,

with the paradox of a labour shortage despite youth unemployment at 30%.

In short, in a European context that already sees us with the lowest percentage of young people in Europe, as this Eurostat graph shows:

Most of our young people are unemployed, poorly trained, underpaid (their salaries are among the lowest in the EU), and have the least stable contracts, as reported in the Avvenire article, which shows that one in three fixed-term contracts does not exceed one month, almost two in three do not exceed six months, and less than one in 100 lasts more than a year.

As effectively summarised by Alessandro Rosina in his article of 7 January, we must put the new generations in a position to contribute more to the economic development of our country, rather than pushing them to find work abroad, as often happens.

A clue is a clue, two clues are a coincidence, but three clues make a proof’, quoted the writer Agatha Christie.

From these three elements, we can state that one of the main knots to be untied (if not the main one) to reverse the dramatic spiral of denatality in which we have entered, starts from youth employment, which can guarantee:

  • full employment for young people
  • adequate remuneration
  • stability and continuity over time.

As chance would have it, these were the characteristics that characterised the baby-boom years (late 1950s, 1960s, early 1970s).

With these job guarantees, together with an affordable home, our young people will finally be able to build a life project, a family, which is a fundamental prerequisite for having children.

This is the first important step towards a National Plan to boost the birth rate.

In a context like the current one, characterised by economic globalisation and the growing impact of robotics and artificial intelligence on the world of work, how can we intervene on the issue of youth employment?

The solution could be to intervene on two levels.

On the first level, we need to put young people in a position to invent a new job, for the competitive development of the country.

It will therefore be necessary to bring the world of work closer to the world of schools, universities and training bodies, so that young people can identify a school career path right from secondary school. At the same time, companies will be able to find specialised and technically prepared personnel to meet the competitive challenges of the market.

On the second level, the state should provide for a major intervention to ensure that a proportion of young people take on the kind of relationship work that an artificial intelligence or a robot will never be able to guarantee, and which is aimed at ensuring social welfare.  

We could envisage a kind of ‘citizenship work’ for young people, with socially useful work in support of municipalities and local authorities, also through the involvement of associations and social cooperatives.

We are thinking, for example, of activities concerning the elderly, health, urban decency, the environment, schools, and everything where there are relationships.

A large part of the funds could be recovered both from the Citizenship Income, which would obviously no longer be due to this category, and from the funds allocated by the Public Administration to cover the services that would be covered by citizenship work.

Adequate remuneration for citizenship work should be equal to a minimum wage, not yet present in Italy but present in most European countries; on the basis of the minimum hourly wages envisaged in our country, different for each category, it could oscillate between 1,000 and 1,300 euros per month.

In this way, the guaranteed minimum wage would be indirectly introduced in Italy as well, which should make it possible to overcome the wage exploitation of some working categories.

Citizenship work could also be extended to unemployed parents with dependent minors in order to encourage the birth rate and protect families with children.

However, it is important that the issue be tackled urgently, by activating the funds provided for in the National Reform Programme, and involving all the potentially interested parties around a table: the government, industrialists and trade associations, trade unions, schools and universities, and families, through the Forum of Family Associations and family associations.

In this way, we will finally be able to help our young people to overcome the logic of the three-month renewable contract proposed by companies, and to reverse the trend of professional paths by following a logic of real enhancement of skills and not of mere exploitation.

As unfortunately happens today. And we pretend not to see it.

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