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Women Need Not Apply: Why Italian Crisis Hits Female Unemployment First

Located in one of southern Italy's poorest regions, once thriving  Crotone has the worst youth unemployment rate for women in the entire country: 90%.

Abandoned factory in Crotone, Italy
Abandoned factory in Crotone, Italy
Flavia Amabile

CROTONE - Vittoria Messina managed at one point to find two jobs. But not enough to provide any financial security. Not in Crotone, at any rate, where nine in ten young women are unemployed.

Messina had positions both at a call center and at a hotel, but ended up losing both. She now faces an uphill battle to find employment — even if she chooses to leave Crotone.

"I started working in a call center selling ADSL lines for an internet provider, and I earned 300-350 euros in four hours," she says. "Afterwards, though, customers started buying fewer ADSL lines. They could have moved me to another product, but they let me go."

Messina eventually found a job in a hotel. "The hotel is supposed to have survived on commercial agreements. When they were not renewed, the owners could no longer pay my social security contributions," says Messina. "They let me go."

Once they reach the age of 35, especially if they are women, they become almost unemployable in the eyes of many businesses. Employers prefer to hire younger workers on temporary contracts, to take advantage of the many subsidies put forward by successive Italian governments with the aim of tackling youth unemployment.

"I do not think I'll be able to make it here anymore," says Messina. I'll wait another month and then I'll leave If I'm still unemployed at 40 it's over. "

No future

With an aging population and a paucity of jobs for the few young people that remain, the future is stark for this small city of 64,000 people facing the Ionian sea.

"Unemployment in Crotone is a real problem. There is no hidden black market economy here," says Francesco Mingrone, general secretary of the local branch of CISL, one of Italy's largest trade unions. "Here, people in their 40s and 50s live on their parents' pensions, and when the elderly die even this resource will be exhausted. The local economy will implode."

Politicians have been slow to react to the depth of the crisis, and there are few signs of government largess except for a call center opened by the center-left government of Romano Prodi in 1996.

"It was one of the few promises kept by politicians and it opened after the city was hit by floods," says Raffaele Felbo, Mingrone's counterpart from the CGIL trade union. "Today it provides 1,200 jobs, and while it's not a definitive solution, it's one of the few resources in Crotone."

Catiuscia Tambaro has two degrees and a long list of work experiences that range from being paid poorly to not being paid at all. While teaching at a private school, she was tasked with running after school activities. She was never offered a contract, however, and after receiving 400 euros in an envelope for her first month of work, the school stopped paying her even as the months went by.

"I was pregnant, but I still finished the school year out of a sense of duty," says Tambaro. "I had to send my husband to receive the money I was due, and all I obtained was a check for a much smaller sum than what I'd been promised."

There is no hidden black market economy here.

She moved on to another job at a local information center, which was better paid but also failed to turn into a permanent position. Tambaro then found work at the call center, the last resort for the unemployed in Crotone.

"Like many women in Crotone, I passed through there too," she says. "But I escaped because it destroyed me psychologically."

Unemployment is a curse that afflicts the men and women of Crotone alike, laying waste to a city designed for industries that in 2018, no longer have a future. "My husband has a job, so I can afford the luxury of staying home and taking care of my kids," says Tambaro. "Working should be an opportunity for personal growth, but what I found was frustrating and depressing. I've decided instead to contribute to society by raising my two kids well."

Golden age

Not long ago, Crotone was home to large industrial firms like the zinc smelter Pertusola Sud and the former chemical giant Montedison. These businesses formed the foundation of one of the largest industrial hubs in southern Italy, providing jobs and economic stability for the surrounding region.

Now the city is a symbol of industrial decline. The only reminders of that golden age are the skeletal ruins of abandoned factories and the resulting chemical pollution that has been linked to high rates of cancer in the area. The collapse of the city's industrial sector produced an endless stream of unemployed men and women, generating an unemployment rate triple the national average of 11%.

Giancarlo Siciliano used to work at Pertusola Sud, rising through the ranks to become the head of his department. "With the factories gone, there's nothing else here," he says. "Every day I go around looking for work, and if I do not find anything"

Futile, Giancarlo vows to keep looking. "If I stop I'll go crazy," he says. "I can not hope I can not get sick."

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Society

Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum

-Analysis-

SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.


It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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