An article by: Andrea Andreoli

Data from the Italian National Social Security Institute (INPS) in Verona paints an alarming picture for new generations

What is happening in today’s world of work?

Verona’s data provides an interesting case study for understanding what is happening in labor today. If we consider work as a paid activity performed in a company that covers the classic 40 or 38 hours per week (full-time), continuous throughout the calendar year (corresponding to 312 days per year), we must note that this is the case for just under half of Verona’s workers.

Actually, according to the INPS tables on private non-agriculture payrolls in 2022 (latest available summary data), they account for 165,413 of the 332,483, corresponding to 49.8%, men and women in Verona who, during 2022, have accumulated all 52 paid weeks that make up the calendar year, with no side work. The local rate, as reported by the General Italian Confederation of Labor (CGIL) of Verona, is in line with the national rate, which is 53.4%. The rest of the workforce was fairly evenly split between those who worked 52 weeks continuously but part-time (17.5%), those who worked between 29 and 51 weeks (16.5%), and those who worked fewer than 28 paid weeks (16%).

For very young people, there is a kind of “ladder” to enter the labor market

Methodological note

It should be noted that the INPS data considered only the weeks paid by the employer (i.e. actually worked), excluding any allowances, such as illness and redundancy payments, which by default makes the picture approximate. Neither a permanent full-time employee who becomes ill during the year, nor a fixed-term worker with a contract term of less than one year will be included as a full-year employee. However, statistical series are useful for identifying some relevant trends.

Full time and full year

For example, full-year and full-time workers are not evenly distributed by gender and even less so by age group, but have maximum scores, about 75%, among 40-year-old workers and 50-year-old men, while minimum scores among women under 20 are only 1.9%, and among men under 20 they are 6.8%. Midway between the two extremes are many situations reflecting the fragmentation of the labor market in recent decades and the gender and age inequalities that are still strongly felt.

Women

Among women, for example, full-time, full-year work reaches a maximum ceiling of 34-35% starting at age 30, after which continuous work throughout the year increases almost exclusively in the form of part-time work. Part-time work accounts for 25.4% of 30-year-olds, 37.8% of 40-year-olds, and 39.3% of 50-year-olds, with a clear correspondence to periods of life characterized by motherhood and care-related needs.

Women employees

Breaking down the analysis by professional qualification, among female employees (the most feminized sector comprises 61% women and 39% men), we find maximum peaks in both full-time (40%) and part-time (40%) continuous work starting in the forties, with men peaking at 80% in the first category.

Youth

For the youngest people, whether male or female, there is a sort of “ladder” to enter the labor market: as many as 76.9% of those under 20, with small differences between men and women, worked less than 28 weeks in 2022 (54 paid days on average). This very high percentage drops to a third (26.2%) among 20-year-olds and a fifth (14.2%) among 30-year-olds, and then remains below 10% in the next two most mature age groups. Comparing the different age groups, we note that there is a parallel increase in the proportion of continuous full-time work, which is 36.6% among 20-year-olds and 51.9% among 30-year-olds.

A trend that, on the one hand, reflects a delay in the entry of young people into the labor market, but, on the other hand, very likely also reflects a transition – a kind of externalization – of the adaptation phase to the world of work (what was once called discipline enforced through strict rules, including fines and disciplinary sanctions), from the workplace to the labor market.

Apprenticeship

A partial exception is the apprenticeship contract, which helps maintain a level of continuous full-time work between 20 and 30 years, while reducing part-time and short periods of work. While on the one hand, apprenticeships help stabilize young people’s incomes and “good” jobs, on the other hand, they reduce wages and are obviously a temporary measure, limiting the number of working men and women to less than 15,000.

Salaries

Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with working an irregular schedule. The issue, in any case, is that only the condition of a continuous full-time (full-year) job seems to provide a level of income sufficient to achieve the economic independence normally expected from work. The average annual salary of 165,413 full-year and full-time workers is €34,749 gross, twice the average annual salary of 58,302 part-time workers (€17,192 gross) and more than double the average annual salary of 55,509 workers who worked between 29 and 51 weeks during the year (€14,555 gross).

Poor work

There is also a vast area of 53,259 male and female workers (corresponding to 16% of the total labor force) who worked less than 29 paid weeks with less than 65 paid days during the year and an average salary of only €4,451 per year gross. This is the group in which the most obvious differences are not so much gender (26,053 men and 27,206 women) as age, with almost half (23,886, corresponding to 44.8%) being young people under 30 years of age (precisely 6,109 under 20 and 17,777 twenty-year-olds). Moreover, if we expand the “youth” category a little further, 65% (34,533 workers in absolute terms) are workers under the age of 40. It is very likely that depending on specific economic conditions, family relations, and the existence of social support networks, the working poor are hidden here. Taking into account that there are a total of 75,920 workers under 30 (the sum of 67,977 twenty-year-old and 7,943 under 20) and 151,052 under 40, arguably 31.5% of workers under 30 (almost one in three) or, if you like, 22.9% of people under 40 (almost one in four) are at risk of poor work. Contrary to current public opinion, we can actually reasonably rule out that they are all daddy’s kids or, as they like to say nowadays, “couch potatoes.”

The instability that today produces poor workers will tomorrow produce very poor retirees and growing inequality in society

Commentary

“If we don’t make an effort to go beyond macro-data and look deeper into the real living and working conditions of male and female workers, we seriously risk losing our orientation and, along with it, our contact with reality,” comments Francesca Tornieri, Secretary General of CGIL Verona. “For months we have heard that employment data is exaggerated, and then we discovered, as CGIL Rome did, that 48% of new contracts activated in the Rome metropolitan area are valid for only one day. Or that even in wealthy Verona there are large pockets of poor labor force; that for many young people the path to a good, stable, and decently paid job represents a kind of cross or that, despite slogans and statements, most women are still forced to split their time between paid work and free care work because of the lack of public services.”

“For too long, the financial and industrial policies necessary for the country to take its destiny back into its own hands have been absent,” she adds, “to restart development, strengthen services, and help people in difficult situations. The instability that today produces poor workers will tomorrow produce very poor retirees and growing inequality in society. It is necessary to reduce atypical contracts, to resume collective negotiations, and to support wages, which have fallen sharply in these years of inflation, only partially compensated by new contracts,” concludes the CGIL secretary.

JOURNALIST, DIRECTOR OF TELENUOVO

Andrea Andreoli