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The Upcoming Crises for ItalyYes, that is plural, meaning there will be more than one obstacle to overcome. Buckle up.
On a warm day in late August, the earth moved in central Italy. Homes, offices, churches, and pieces of history cracked and crumbled. Entire cities were leveled. Nearly 300 people died. One clock tower remained standing with the hour of the carnage firmly in its place. Time stood still.
I watched the Italian news from the comfort of my American home, far away from the 6.2 magnitude earthquake, which struck near Rieti, north of Rome. Pescara del Tronto and Amatrice (famous for its pasta all' Amatriciana) were among the worst hit. I've made it my job to keep up with the happenings and culture of my family's native Italy. (In fact, you can read the updates I shared about the earthquake and learn how you can help at the Italian Mamma Website.) As tears streamed down my face at the incredible loss of life, I couldn't help but wonder how this country, on the brink of economic crisis, was ever going to be able to rebuild these towns that had been decimated. Many forces are coming together to warn of a number of crises that could plague the Boot in the near future.
In fact, a Google news feed on "Italy" is like a giant red flag these days. For starters, there are these questions about the economy. After all, you can't pay for that sweet life without any money. Here's what's happening in a nutshell; Italy has non-performing loans because it didn't take hard enough measures in the wake of the global financial crisis in 2008. Now, the country is paying for lax banking regulations. One of the oldest banks – dating back to the 1400s – is in more serious trouble than the others. Now, that Brexit, the decision of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union is happening, the stakes are higher. EU rules that are designed to prevent taxpayers from footing the bill for bank bailouts could end up forcing Italy out. You can get a more detailed explanation from MarketWatch (even though there have been updates since this was published on Aug. 1, 2016)
If you've been following so far, you're thinking, "Geez, a potential for collapsing banks and an oust from the EU could be catastrophic, especially when a country has to rebuild a few towns." There are still two other challenges that could influence this other news in a bad way. One is the migration crisis in all of Europe. Radical terrorists, crushing poverty, and a lack of human resources are driving people out of Syria and parts of Africa. People are packing themselves into small, wooden fishing boats and taking to the Mediterranean Sea in the hopes of surviving and making a better life in countries, such as Italy.
Many of those fleeing their homes never make it. Rescue operations on the part of Italians have become a regular occurrence. You can see some of the images from these rescue operations at The Guardian's Website. They've saved thousands of refugees. The question is what to do with all of them. Italy brings them in. But unemployment rates in the country are high, salaries have stagnated for a decade, and the banks are in danger. The government has shown humanity to its own people and immigrants by making a law that keeps people from getting punished for stealing small amounts of food, presumably because they just want to eat. And supermarkets are now legally obliged to share wasted food with charities. It might not be enough, but it's a start.
Perhaps, the most jarring of the challenges is the fact that Italians, as we know them anyway, may cease to exist. For many years now, Italians have been having fewer babies, and the population has been declining drastically. The average fertility rate in the EU is 1.5, which is too low to maintain a stable population, according to New York magazine (and others). Italy's fertility rate is even lower at 1.4. The country offers lots of perks to the aged and retired. Now that the unemployment rate is high and there are fewer people in general, the aging population is becoming even more expensive and putting even more pressure on an already stretched economy.
Enter, Fertility Day, which is set to happen Sept. 22, 2016. The idea is to encourage young people to procreate and make more Italians. Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin organized the initiative, which includes ads that have caused outrage among Italians. One ad says, "Beauty is timeless, but fertility is not." Another features a rotting banana peel with a message about men's biological clocks. The idea has been deemed as sexist, tasteless, and failing to be based in reality. Frankly, young Italians are having a hard time financially, and having babies will only make matters worse for individuals. Couple this with the fact that people tend to graduate college in their late 20s and even early 30s and remain at home with their parents all the while, and adding babies to this equation seems irresponsible. You can check out the debate for yourself in New York magazine.
Any one of these headlines on its own could cause serious problems for a country. Combine them all, and you have a recipe for disaster. But I would be un-Italian if I did not spread a little joy in the face of great disappointment, and I would be un-American if I did not offer an optimistic view. I want to believe that Italy – along with its allies in the EU and around the world – will find a way to help people and end the migration crisis. It won't happen overnight, but it will eventually happen. Something's gotta give.
It's time for the banks to be held accountable. We can't let them keep bringing our economies down. So, this might be a good thing in the long term even if it stings right now. People are already coming together to help the victims of the earthquake. Italians are resourceful and treat their neighbors like family. I'm certain the damaged areas will get rebuilt in time. Italians will band together to heal their country and their people.
Finally, at some point, we are all going to accept that the demographics of Italy just might change. In 100 years, Italians might look very different, but that's okay. They might even call themselves by another name. It doesn't matter. It won't change our history as Italians today. And it's perfectly fine if some Italian women prefer to pursue other dreams besides being a mamma. It will all still be okay.
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