SEATTLE, Washington — In 2019, for the first time in four years, it looked like poverty in Italy was on the decline, with 1.7 million families living in absolute poverty, which was down from the 1.8 million families living in absolute poverty in 2018. The Italian National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT) defines absolute poverty in Italy as being unable to buy goods and services essential to avoid “social exclusion.” For those living in relative poverty—people with disposable incomes less than half the national average, there was also good news. In 2019, only 14.7% of the population fell into this category, as opposed to 15% in 2018. Last year, poverty in Italy seemed to be falling, albeit slowly. But then, Italy was hit hard and fast by COVID-19, and the rest of the world watched the country lockdown as hospitals filled up. Now, it looks like the consequences of the pandemic are not just the lives lost to the virus, but increasing poverty and debt as well. Here is how the country is facing poverty after COVID-19.
Italy’s New Poor
Some of Italy’s new poor are turning to criminal organizations for help. Mafia gangs in Italy are beginning to profit off of the pandemic, providing loans and food packages to those who aren’t receiving government aid, either from the delays in distribution or fear. Many others are turning to churches for charity, but their resources are already stretched thin. Soup kitchens have seen two hundred more people per meal, and one food package service now delivers to more than 7,000 families, as compared to the 300 before the pandemic. Whereas poverty in Italy had been decreasing before, Italy was unprepared for a spike of this magnitude.
What Italy Can Teach Us