Foreign workers in Italy are more likely to be employed than Italians are

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Plenty to do.
Image: Reuters/Stefano Rellandini
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With one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe, Italy is no country for job seekers. Especially if you’re Italian.

According to data from Eurostat, only 67.9% of Italian nationals aged 20 to 64 have jobs, compared with a rate of 74.3% for foreign workers in Italy, whether from within or outside the European Union.

This is in line with something observed across Europe, where weaker economies, the ones with more employment trouble, are employing greater percentages of foreigners than nationals. The disparity is widest in Greece, where the gap in employment rates for foreigners and nationals is more than 11 percentage points—followed by Slovenia and then Italy. However, Italy, which dramatically eclipses Greece and Slovenia in population, employs a far greater number of foreign workers in total.

The difference is particularly striking in the 55-to-64 age group. Just 50.1% Italians in that bracket are employed, versus 72.4% of non-Italians in the country.

Other data sources show an even larger disparity among youth, a part of the population that pays the steepest price of the labor market crisis. As of May, 36.9% of Italians age 15 to 24 were unemployed, and only 16.7% of them are employed. By comparison, nearly half of non-Italians of the same age have jobs.

The reason behind this is the same that’s been driving the labor market crisis in Italy: The Italian economy offers a lot of poorly paid jobs (link in Italian) that require only basic skills, while struggling to create employment opportunities for more highly skilled workers.

Immigrants in Italy are typically more open to do menial work, or take up jobs that are hard and not well paid. Many of them are becoming pizza chefs, for instance. According to the latest data from the Italian ministry of labor, from July 2015, nearly half of Italy’s working receive a salary of under €800 a month (pdf, p. 8).

The findings from Eurostat and the Italian ministry of labor confirm that immigrants are an important contributor to Italy’s economy. According to the latest data, immigrants represent 11% of Italy’s workforce, and produce about 9% of its GDP (link in Italian).