“You are right to fight in France” … In Italy, the hassle of employment for seniors

From our special correspondent in Turin,

The children come out of school in packs, picked up by the moms always at the rendezvous of the bell under the strokes of 4:30 p.m. Add the Alps overlooking the city of Turin in the background, and all that remains is to put a drizzle of olive oil and an insult by waving your hands in front of spaghetti cut in half to tick all the boxes of the cliché of the Italy. But the sight of these little ones screaming their newfound freedom looks more and more like an exception. Because the toddler is becoming rare.

And for good reason, the country is the second oldest in the world, after Japan, with an average age of over 45 years. The birth rate is the lowest in the European Union. Walking carefully in the arteries of Turin, there are actually more white hair than milk teeth, and more old people sitting on a bench than kids running at top speed. In Italy, where 23.5% of the population is over 65, the senior is everywhere, even at work. Here, it’s not unusual to see an elderly person driving you around in a taxi, taking care of your espresso or your math lesson.

The senior at work but tired

At 63, Rosanna is still running around her store, to recommend a particular item of clothing or give the price of another. According to her own accounts, this saleswoman should be able to retire in four or five years. A last straight line that looks like eternity. If his proud face and his bearing defy the passage of time, this is not the case with his physical form. When talking about her condition, the mask of the ideal saleswoman cracks a little: “I can no longer work full time. Forty hours a week is too much. She is part-time, and even with this reduced schedule, wear and tear is eating away at her. “It’s a job where you always have to be on your feet, where working on Sundays remains obligatory. It’s difficult, especially at my age.

At 63, Rosanna, saleswoman, no longer has the energy – or the contracts – to work full time – JLD / 20 Minutes

Yet working longer has become the new mantra in Italy. You have already heard the argument in France, it is the same on the other side of the Alps: the aging of the population is accompanied by a shift in the retirement age, currently set at 67 years. A starting age indexed to life expectancy, and which could therefore rise to 71 years in 2070, according to Maciej Lis, OECD economist and specialist in the Italian system.

Job uncertainty

So here are the seniors with both feet in the job market. At least in theory. In 2021, the employment rate for Italians aged 55-64 was 53.4%, 8 points below the OECD average. A figure that drops to 40% for only 60-64 year olds, and the gap drops to 12 points with the average. Italy is therefore one of the worst pupils for the employment of seniors, and Rosanna can testify to this.

Cancer at 58 forced her to put her career on hold. Following this judgment, she experienced two years of unemployment, and now only has short contracts of six months. “No one offers long terms, let alone permanent contracts, to elderly people like me,” breathes the one who has to live with the uncertainty of the coming months. Will she still be employed in 2024? Nothing guarantees it.

Discrimination in hiring?

A reason for hope, however: the percentage of 60-64 year olds in employment has doubled in ten years, informs Maciej Lis. Same trend for 65-69 year olds, from 8 to 14% between 2011 and 2021. Cinzia co-directs the Cames factory, responsible for producing steel pipes. Even for this physical job, “there is no employment discrimination. A senior, I look at their experience and what I can do with them, there are plenty of positions within a company where they are useful. And then I already have three toddler at home, it’s not just to recruit young people here. »

But back in the center of Turin, the fingers of Guissepe invalidate the observation of a job market open to the over 60s. Puffy from the years, worn out from work in the factory, you could fit three thumbs in just one of your index fingers. It’s finally true what they say: in Italy, the hands speak, and Giussepe has only to present his to tell the story of the factory and the difficulty of constantly prolonging the work.

So when we talk to him about France and the demonstrations in progress, the man can only want to cross the Alps: “You are right to fight, we should do the same and even install a retirement at 60 years old. After this age, it becomes very difficult, for health, to work, or to get hired. While the French government sometimes uses the retirement age of other countries to defend its reform, Rosanna hopes for the opposite effect: that discontent in France will persuade Italians to protest in turn.

The senior at work who misses at home

Because making seniors work is not without debate in Italy. Already, there is its cost. According to the OECD, the salary of a full-time Italian worker between the ages of 55 and 64 is on average 19% higher than that of a worker between the ages of 25 and 54. A result here again far from the average of developed countries, where the difference between young and senior workers is only 6%. Then, in a country where the unemployment rate among young people is 23%, more than three times the national average, the employment of the oldest has often been perceived as a brake. This was the promise of Matteo Salvini’s League by creating the 100 quota in 2019. By allowing early retirement from the age of 62, this should allow more hiring for newcomers to the labor market. According to the Bank of Italy, the measure had no effect on that side.

And above all, the senior at work is missing at home. According to Istat, the transalpine INSEE, in 2022, more than half of those over 75 live less than one kilometer from their children, while 20% of families live together. A study by the Institute for Economic Research (Ires) in 2010, a year before the transition to 67, estimated the economic value of the unpaid work of grandparents at home at 18.3 billion euros, or the equivalent to 1.2% of Italian GDP. Of this total, 13.8 billion euros were due to the sole activity of babysitting for retirees.

“We’re going to the cemetery”

“Italy has always been a country where the family is very supportive, to compensate for the many shortcomings of the state”, underlines Fransesca, 52 years old. The country has just created the first child benefit in March 2022. And in 2019, only one in 10 children had access to a public crèche. “We want to encourage women to have more babies to save the system, but if we send the best and cheapest babysitters, namely grandparents, to work, we have a big problem. »

Fransesca was able to count on the grandparents to look after her son 20 years ago.  Today, such a case of help is compromised by the work of seniors
Fransesca was able to count on the grandparents to look after her son 20 years ago. Today, such a case of help is compromised by the work of seniors – JLD / 20 Minutes

But before thinking about reviving – or not – the country’s failing demography, women are already busy enough trying to figure out how to make ends meet. Because extending working life is a new ordeal in a country where finding a job remains a challenge when you do not have a Y chromosome. In Italy, only 49% of women are employed – 62.4% in Europe -, against 67 .2% of men. The Covid-19 has given a layer of it, destroying a number of service jobs, in other words a number of female jobs. Matilda is a tourist guide. And beyond the fatigue in her legs from going around the city and her age, she can only see the shortage of visitors to Turin since the confinements. There was better in 2022, but a quarter of pre-pandemic tourists are missing. “Our professions are weakened, and we are asked to do them longer. Italy is heading into the wall, and we into the cemetery”.

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