Monday, 8 October 2007

Niños de mamá?

Today I'm going to write a short novel and I'm sure I won't cover everything that this topic deserves. This one will definitely exceed the word count for web-written stuff.

But here goes.

Italy's economy minister has sparked an uproar by offering tax breaks to so-called bamboccioni (big babies) if they let go of their mother's apron strings and leave home.

According to Reuters, over a third of Italian men over the age of 30 live at home with their parents. This phenomenon is blamed on sky-high flat rents and bleak job prospects as much as a liking for mamma's cooking and clothes washing prowess.

Economy Minister Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa offered to come to the rescue with a €1,000 tax break for 20- and 30-something Italians who rent.ç

€1,000. Now there's something!

It was Padoa-Schioppa himself who used the term bamboccioni, which evokes images of clumsy, overgrown male babies. It sounds pretty condescending to me and has unsurprisingly caused a bit of an uproar in Italy.

The comment was immediately condemned by politicians from all shades of the political spectrum. They asked: Can young Italians be blamed for a sputtering economy and high rents?

"This absurd gaffe shows how he's probably not clear how precarious is the situation afflicting an entire generation - the first generation that has to deal with social conditions worse than those of its parents," said Francesco Caruso, a communist from Romano Prodi's coalition.

Rome mayor Walter Veltroni said the comment was an 'unhappy quip' and that problems facing Italy's youth were the country's biggest challenge.

Isabella Bertolini of the Forza Italia party said Prodi should reprimand his minister for the "offensive epithet."

Right now in Italy there is a broader debate going on over the country's increasingly geriatric society where the best jobs are often occupied by those over 50, thus squeezing out the young and ambitious.

Many Italians do not graduate until their late 20s and end up in poorly paid internships or with short-term contracts.

A sharp rise in the cost of living since the introduction of the euro has not helped, and even a €1,000 tax break will not be enough to help young Italians stand on their own feet, said Guglielmo Epifani, who heads a major Italian union.

"Renting an apartment 30 years ago cost a quarter of the salary of a worker," writer Aldo Nove who has penned a book called "My Name is Roberta, I'm 40 years old and earn 250 euros a month," told Corriere della Sera newspaper.

"Today, it costs more than the salary of a young apprentice. What else is there to say?"

In many ways you could substitute Italy with Spain and this story would still ring true. Lots of people live with their parents until well into their thrties, good jobs are hard to come by for well qualified university graduates, and those that do find jobs find themselves earning next to nothing compared to their middle aged bosses who are raking it in and do no work.

House prices have also sky-rocketed in the past decade and lots of young professions have found that without the help of their parents - who probably own two or three houses themselves, one in the city and another family home or two in the pueblo or playa - there's no way they can afford to buy anything decent themselves.

The €1,000 euros they're offering as a tax break in Italy seems quite significant to me as the mil euristas in Spain are basically the generation that earns one thousand euros a month. I kid ye not. If you earn more than that then you're in a well paid job.

This what El País has to say about them: "Pertenecen a la generación más preparada de la historia de España. Rondan la treintena, son universitarios y saben idiomas. Pero los bajos sueldos, la sobreabundancia de titulados y los cambios sociales les han impedido llegar a donde pensaban llegar. Comparten piso; no tienen coche, ni casa, ni hijos y ya se han dado cuenta de que el futuro no estaba donde creían."

Sad, isn't it?

Between us my wife and I earn what would be considered in Spain to be small fortune yet we can't afford to buy a decent house in an area we'd like to live.

How do people manage it?

They must all be bankrolled by their parents or some other rich relative, otherwise it just doesn't make sense. And you can't ask anyone about this - nobody is going to tell you that the house isn't entirely theirs, that el suegro has paid for part of it. It's a question of face.

Then again, I'm not sure I really help the situation, being a foreigner working in a multinational company in Spain. Many of my foreign colleagues and I are taking away the Spanish people's jobs - and we earn higher salaries than they do in Spanish companies for the privilege.

You could say we're more qualified, or we have certain advantages like speaking English. But you could also say that there are enough jobs in our more industrialised, lower unemployment countries and we should be sent back there post haste. Would that be racism or plain economic nationalism?

It certainly reminds me of Enoch Powell and his rivers of blood.

If you ask me the whole situation in Spain and Italy is completely unsustainable and sometime during this generation it's all going to go pear-shaped somewhere. Tits up. I'm not sure how that will manifest itself but it won't be nice for anyone involved.

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