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Ischia Crisis Is World's Crisis
A look at an Italian island's economy right now will help you see just how the European Union's economic troubles influences everyday people
Italy, or at least my family's native Ischia, an island off the coast of Naples, Italy - is in crisis. There are few tourists, people are out of work, and if things don't improve over the next few months, some hotels and tourism-related businesses may shutter. Or at least that's what friends and family are reporting to me in our weekly or so phone calls.
An island, Ischia went from being an agriculturally based to tourism based economy. Neither is a safe industry. Some years just don't go as well as others. This year, the rest of Italy - and all of Europe - is hurting, too. You might have heard about the PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain), and how their country's debt is putting the whole EU and the euro into a bit of trouble. As a result, Europeans aren't taking many vacations. The Great Recession still going strong in the United States and other parts of the world doesn't help matters.
I'm telling you what my family and friends are telling me because it really puts in perspective difficult economic issues. To hear on the news that these so-called PIIGS nations owe lots of money and could rock the foundation of the European Union's plans for its economy - and strength might not mean much to you. But to hear about the struggle of an island in Italy, and how its people are working hard to keep up a tourism-based economy brings the crisis into terms to which you could probably relate.
Right now, just about everyone is working hard to keep their jobs, find a job if they don't have one, and save money. In a place like Ischia, this is paramount. You have to understand how the island economy works. Even though Ischia is an island, there are distinct seasons. In November, it starts to get pretty cold there. Many of the hotels and even some of the restaurants and bars close for six months of the year. Essentially, they wait out the cold. From Easter (usually in April) to October, the whole island is prepared to make its annual salary. If things don't go well in the summer, the island suffers the rest of the year. It's hard to make up for a lost year.
Some of the businesses never recover from such a crisis. The other problem is that businesses that do survive often have to let people go, usually natives of the island or immigrants who came for the work. Those folks usually only work for six months out of the year anyway. If they don't work a full six months during the year, they can't collect unemployment for the other six. That means that those people can end up going an entire year without any income.
On an island, everything tends to cost more. Food and clothing are extra expensive because there's a limited supply and everything has to come from the mainland, which means more expenses for gas and shipping. The prices don't go down even if there's a crisis. There aren't lots of discount stores or even sales (in Italy, there are designated months for sales at clothing stores and the rest of the year, you're generally paying full price).
Combining the realities of island life and the economic troubles now facing Europe, the people in Ischia already seem to be having a tough year. They are a strong people, and I'm sure they'll survive. But knowing about their difficulties and the "crisi" that they keep telling me about has me worrying about the global economy. It really brings home - much like my worries about my American career in journalism and my many unemployed friends - the Great Recession. Sometimes, that's all you need to start paying closer attention to what's happening in the world and the parts of the world in which you have a greater stake.
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