Guiding Investigation 25 October Oct 2017 1100 25 October 2017

Almost 1 million of unemployed in the “middle generation” of over 35s. The solution? Lifelong learning

The latest data published by the Italian National Institute for Statistics (ISTAT) reveals that unemployment has fallen in all age brackets except for 35-49 years olds. Lifelong learning is the only way to avoid long-term unemployment.

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Neither young nor old. According to the latest ISTAT figures on employment as at August 2017, 35 to 49 year olds are the worst off. The number of unemployed in this age bracket has increased to 996,000 - nearly 1 million - as a combined result of a rise in the number of economically inactive people and a fall in employment. But that’s not all: this section of the population, which has by now overcome the difficult phase of entering into the labour market, suffers the highest long-term unemployment (i.e. the inability to find work for more than a year).

Compared to last year, employment among 35 to 49 year olds fell by 147,000 units. ISTAT states that this figure is also influenced by a demographic decline in this age bracket, but in actual fact the incidence of unemployment compared to the reference population continues to increase. We are talking about a population of roughly 13 million people, more or less the same as the 50-64 age bracket, but here unemployment is lower by 400,000 units.

The problem is that, at the moment, there are no tax breaks, incentives or loans aimed at over 35s. Existing measures cater exclusively for under 35s or over 50s. Moreover, the new tax allowances that the government is planning to introduce with the next budget should not concern them.

The solution could lie in off-the-job lifelong learning.

To aid this age bracket - which has borne the full brunt, first of the casualization of labour and then of the economic recession - we would need new measures designed to make the “middle generation” attractive on the labour market. Today, an Italian 40 year old who is out of a job may not have the right skills to re-enter the labour market. Hence, the spiral of long-term unemployment: once unemployed, always unemployed. And of course, businesses prefer to train a 20 year old instead of a 40 year old.

The solution could lie in off-the-job lifelong learning. According to the OECD, such training (understandably) reduces the chance of educational mismatches, i.e. the misalignment between a worker’s level of education and the prerequisites for carrying the work in question. In this regard, Italy lags way behind in Europe, with one secondary school leaver out of three and one graduate out of five believing that their work could also be carried out with a lower qualification than the one they possess. In France, for example, they have recently introduced a “personal training account”, and every worker is entitled to a certain number of training hours in order to keep pace with market demands in view of a potential change in role.

And let’s not forget what awaits today’s 35 to 49 year olds at retirement. According to Italy’s National Institute of Social Security (INPS), what with regular interruptions in contribution payments, those born in the eighties will have to work until the age of 75, when they will receive an average pension of 25% less than the one received by their parents. Promoting supplementary pension plans, also by means of adequate remuneration, is the key to avoiding a future generation of poor pensioners in need of forms of assistance that further increase the burden on the state coffers.