(By Sandra Cordon) (ANSA) - Rome, December 16 - Amid the deepest recession since the Second World War, almost 30% of Italians were at risk of falling into poverty and social exclusion last year, national statistics agency Istat said Monday. It concluded that in 2012, 29.9% of Italians were at risk - an increase of 1.7% over 2011 figures and fully 5.1% higher than the European average of 24.8%, the agency said. Italy has been badly hit by the global economic crisis, with unemployment climbing to record highs of over 12% and four in 10 young people under 25 out of work. Premier Enrico Letta and other government leaders say that in the final quarter of this year, the country has been emerging from recession, but growth projections for 2014 remain weak. As a consequence, it will take some time for incomes and consumer confidence in Italy to recover from the past two years of heavy losses in the economy and in employment. Meanwhile, looking at last year's numbers, Istat found that the percentage of people suffering serious economic hardship had increased to 14.5% from 11.2% in 2011. Among those enduring severe hardship, it said more than 21% could not afford to adequately heat their homes, an increase from 18% in 2011; 17% could not afford an adequate meal that included protein, up from 24.4% in 2011; and 42.5% said they could not pay for unexpected expenses above 800 euros, an increase from 38.6% in that position in 2011. The risk of poverty is higher in the southern half of Italy, where nearly half of residents are at risk of poverty or deprivation and the possibility of severe deprivation has increased by 5.5% between 2012 and 2011. Just over 25% were described as being at risk of severe deprivation, up from 19.7% in 2011. In contrast, in Italy's most northern regions, the risk of severe deprivation is much lower, at about 8% in 2012, up from 6.3% in 2011. In Italy's centre, the risk of deprivation rose to 10.1% in 2012 from 7.4% the previous year. The risks could have serious social and political costs. Italian President Giorgio Napolitano called Monday for "maximum attention" to be paid to people who live in "hardship" and poverty. Otherwise, the frustration and "social malaise" of people who feel marginalized may spill over into violent protests, the president warned. He spoke amid anti-government and anti-austerity protests around Italy, many organized by the so-called Pitchfork Movement in the past several days. Some have been violent but movement organizers have said that with as many as "eight million demonstrators" they cannot control everyone. Meanwhile, Istat said that family size made an important difference in terms of poverty and social exclusion risks. In larger families, with three or more children, the risk rose to 48.3% in 2012 from just under 40% in 2011; while 48.3% of single-income families were at risk. Among elderly people living alone, 38% were at risk in 2012, up from 34.8 % in 2011. Consumer and business groups have recently been sounding the alarm over extremely tight family budgets and the impact of scaled-back consumption on the economy. Istat's finding dovetail with those previous findings and concerns. In a related study of 2011 income figures, the agency concluded that about half of Italian families were living on a net income of just over 24,600 euros per year, or about 2,053 euros per month. It also found that in the south and on Italy's islands, family budgets were slightly weaker than the national average, with 50% of households in these regions receiving less than 20,129 euros annually, or about 1,677 euros per month. Istat also found that the richest 20% of Italians accounted for 37.5% of total income.