THE FUTURE OF MULTI-ETHNIC ITALY: FROM RISK TO OPPORTUNITY
Five million foreigners live in Italy today. According to projections by Istat, in 2034 this figure will double. This data solicits a reflection on the multi-ethnic society that is taking shape within the peninsula. We should also be thinking about the future development of this profound demographic, social and cultural transformation. The current situation, as we know, sees immigrants in a state of substantial invisibility, with participation limited to only few of the dynamics of the economic system. As it has been pointed out by many, the contribution of foreign citizens to our economy is far from irrelevant. Without this presence entire areas and sectors, staring from the SMEs system of which we are rightfully proud, would suffer the lack of a workforce that Italians refuse to represent. The contribution to GDP of foreign workers is substantial, and the emerging phenomenon of immigrant entrepreneurship is becoming quite relevant.
The migration phenomenon is undergoing some changes as well. New players are entering the scene: the second generations (G2). We are talking about a segment of the population that according to the last census has exceeded one million individuals, eight hundred thousand of whom are currently attending our schools. Hundreds of thousands of young people who have been defined ‘new Italians’ because they appear willing to assimilate our culture and harmonise it with their original cultural traits. Their expectations regarding their place in society are also very different from their parents who have settled for a subordinate inclusion in the labour market. As we know, their fathers and mothers carry out the famous ‘five P jobs’: low pay, precarious, perilous, penalized, with little professional growth. However, this perspective does not apply to the G2 whose dreams are not dissimilar from those of their native peers. They point to the so-called ‘work of the 3 Ms’: medical doctor, magistrate and mathematician.
Studying the processes of integration of the G2 allows us in a sense to imagine the features of a multi-ethnic Italy in 2034. A series of questions mark this analysis. Will ours be a harmonious society where everyone, regardless of their origins, will occupy the place they deserve based on their own predispositions and capabilities and where cultures meet in a middle ground that encourages and promotes the sharing of values? Or will it be, instead, a Balkanised society, made up of communities that coexist without either cohesion or mutual exchange? From the economic point of view, will foreigners and Italians participate equally to the production of wealth, the creative and entrepreneurial impulse of which Italy is an example? Or will today’s situation resurface, characterised by an ethnic stratification that sees Italians carry out the more prestigious trades and foreigners relegated to the lower levels? In the background of these questions lies a central issue: the balance of a society increasingly marked by a pluralism of cultures, values, religions.
In order not to be caught unprepared by the changes, to anticipate the future instead of suffering it, a good method is to examine the situation in countries where the migratory phenomenon manifested earlier and where integration of the G2 has already taken place. From there, unfortunately, we do not see encouraging signs. Scrutinising the European scene, we can see unequivocal indicators of difficulty, with the second and now also the third generations that not only do not make the leap in quality compared to the first, but even take a downward spiral. To get an idea, we just need a quick look at the various essays and research reports drawn up in recent years. Leafing through this literature, one is amazed by the convergence of the conclusions. In their The second generation in Europe and the United States, Thomson and Crul denounce with abundant evidence the ‘failed integration’ of the G2. Taking stock of the situation of the labour market in France, United Kingdom and Germany, Algan, Dustmann, Glitzand and Manning see «a clear indication that – in each country – the performance […] of most immigrant groups and their descendants is, on average, worse than that of the native population». The project ‘The Integration of the European Second Generation’, which involved fifteen cities in eight countries (Sweden, Germany, Holland, Belgium, France, Austria, Spain, Switzerland), noted how a significant part of the G2 comes out of the educational process without a high school diploma, while those who are already active in the labour market often suffer odious forms of discrimination. The project ‘Successful Pathways for the Second Generation of Migrants’ conducted in Italy, Austria, Great Britain, Holland, Germany, Slovenia, Switzerland, sadly concludes that «many young people from the second generation […] cannot reach a high level of human capital, understood as the achievement of learning results and professional skills needed to climb the social ladder». The ‘statistical portrait’ of the European G2s made by EUROSTAT points out that ‘the integration problems’ of immigrants extend to «their locally born descendants, who tend to experience more difficulties [than natives] in education and in the labour market». The European statistical body notes in particular that «young people born locally with a migration background generally run the risk of abandoning the educational and apprenticeship systems without obtaining a diploma» and that their unemployment rate is almost everywhere higher than that of natives.
Europe, therefore, does not appear to have been up to the challenge. Too often, the integration of the G2s was carried out downward, and the discomfort of these young people is frequently revealed with phenomena of rebellion if not, indeed, of terrorism. The lesson of the caliphate in Syria and Iraq, whose barbarism involves thousands of young European Muslims, is a clear warning. At this point we must ask: what is happening in Italy? How is the integration of the ‘new Italians’ going? Social sciences, especially sociology, have been monitoring the situation for some time in an effort to understand whether the direction in which we are moving is the same as other European countries or whether there is a peculiar Italian way to integration, possibly better than the one adopted elsewhere.
The snapshots taken so far are ambivalent and highlight two aspects. The integration of immigrants’ children proceeds successfully on the social and cultural level. The G2 seems to identify with our country, absorb the language and reproduce costumes, attitudes, and lifestyles. They make friends with everyone, without exceptions or barriers. These positive signs, however, coexist with others of a different nature. At school, foreign students stand out too often for their uneven performance, with frequent episodes of repetition, delay, dropout that, even if they also concern Italian students, are reflected in the first group with greater frequency. Much attention was attracted by the phenomenon of ‘educational segregation’: foreign teens enroll in vocational and technical schools in much higher proportions than their Italian counterparts, who prefer high schools. Renouncing, in this way, the transition to university and the access to more qualified professions. The economic consequences are already visible. Circumstantial evidence shows that the inclusion of the G2 in the labour market is characterised by the same traits of subordination that characterised the one of their parents. Focusing on the situation in Friuli Venezia Giulia, in the recently publication And what should we do with the children? (Aracne, Rome 2015), the writer observed the complexity of this problem. The collected data are unequivocal: construction, agriculture, industry and the lower segments of the service sector are the areas that open up more easily to the contribution of the G2. One data stands out above all: nearly 50% of the recruitment of young staff in the primary sector concerns people of foreign origin.
Is the Balkanisation of society our future? We will be able to avoid what is happening in Great Britain or France, where the G2s cultivate their resentment against a system that, from their point of view, only keeps them in a ghetto? Before resigning ourselves to pessimism, it would be useful to prepare specific strategies that can address a social issue of this relevance. The writer does not want to suggest any recipes, which are the domain of others. However, we are of the opinion that the risks that we have outlined could even turn into opportunities. This, at least, is the message launched during the Future Forum by Jay Mitra, professor at the Essex Business School. Mitra has very clear ideas about what to do for the children of immigrants. His proposal focuses on a catchy formula: leveraging the ‘hidden treasure’ found within immigration.
Mitra’s reasoning is inspired by an emerging dimension that we have already mentioned: the strong propensity of foreign citizens to create their own business. At the basis of this phenomenon is, among other things, the ability to take advantage of networks made of individuals that move between multiple worlds. If supported and encouraged, this phenomenon could develop further and involve the G2s as well. «The only way to overcome the problems of integration that we face today», said Mitra, «is to have an entrepreneurial approach to immigration, to identify and promote the creative aspects related to the movement of people in order to put the various countries in conditions of working together and create a more entrepreneurial future for our economies. […] Entrepreneurship understood as creativity, as the creation of innovative enterprises, new organisational models and new financial solutions».
The one suggested by Mitra is a viable route and could be the solution we are looking for. With support from institutions and associations, accompanied perhaps by appropriate training, a new course could be identified in which foreign citizens, as a useful resource within a perimeter of opportunities precisely demarcated, would become the protagonists of a new season, whose economic benefits are clear and can benefit all of us. There is no harm in trying.
PhD in Sociology of Communication, Media and Identity from the Department of Human Sciences of the University of Udine and Verona. He has participated in a number of research projects, exploring topics ranging from mass communications to international migration, from the labour market to the world of children, from 11 September 2001 to the war in Iraq. He has been a lecturer in various sociological disciplines at the Universities of Udine and Verona.
Il presente contributo è apparso in:
Anteprime di futuro/Future previews
dal/from Future Forum, Udine-Napoli 2014
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