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Alarm over Italian spending power, pensions

Economic crisis means number of poor has risen since 200

05 December, 17:09
Alarm over Italian spending power, pensions (By Sandra Cordon) (ANSA) - Rome, December 5 - Economists and politicians have predicted an end to the recession gripping Italy, yet pensioners and consumers are not rejoicing as statistics Thursday showed that spending power and pension income alike have been weakening while the risk of poverty rises.

Italy's social security agency INPS revealed that nearly half of retirees receiving benefits obtained less than 1,000 euros per month in 2012.

The agency noted that 45.2% of INPS retirees, or 7.2 million Italians, received pension payments of less than 1,000 euros per month. Of those, 2.26 million - or 14.3% of all INPS pensioners - see less than 500 euros per month. At the opposite end of the income scale, just over 650,000 INPS retirees receive more than 3,000 euros per month. At the same time, Italian households have seen their purchasing power sink by 9.4% between 2008, when the global economic crisis began with force, and 2012, said INPS. The crisis became especially acute between 2011 and 2012 as the deepening recession squeezed Italians' buying power by 4.9%.

Since 2008, disposable income fell an average of 1.8% per year, with a deeper drop of 2% from 2011 to 2012.

Meanwhile, almost 30% of the Italian population was at risk of slipping into poverty last year as a result of the economic crisis, said the European Union's statistical agency.

According to Eurostat, 29.9% of Italians were at risk in 2012, an increase from the 28.2% at risk in 2011 and the 25.3% who were considered vulnerable in 2008, when the crisis that has shaken Europe began.

Further, the agency said that 14.5% of Italians were not merely at risk but were actually "severely materially deprived".

That stood in sharp contrast with Sweden and Luxembourg, which reported only 1.3% of their populations in that same dire position, the best record in the European countries measured by Eurostat. Meanwhile, too many Italian workers are in 'precarious' short-term jobs, intermittent contracts and other types of employment with few social benefits and that threatens to exacerbate the current employment, pension and income trends, warned the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

In a report on retirement and pensions, the Paris-based OECD said that these types of employment do not provide adequate opportunities to save for old age, including proper pension plans.

This means that retirement savings may be spotty among these types of workers, who are increasing in number as a result of Italy's recession and the global economic downturn that has increased unemployment and under-employment.

"(In Italy) the adequacy of retirement income will be a problem (for future generations)," the agency warned.

Pensions are often closely linked to contributions by workers, but those who do not get much work are not able to pay much into the plan, limiting their future benefits, explained the report.

It called for better public pension plans and programs to encourage retirement planning and opportunities to save.

Continuing threats to incomes now and in the future were reflected in other reports Thursday that showed Italian consumer spending slipped by 2.1% in October compared with the same time last year, suggesting fearful shoppers are keeping their wallets closed, said Italy's leading retailer organization Confcommercio.

This despite bold statements from Premier Enrico Letta who has said that he believes Italy has been gradually coming out of recession during the final three months of this year.

Furthermore, he and other government officials predict that in 2014, the Italian economy will emerge from recession.

Similarly, the OECD has predicted that Italy's gross domestic product (GDP) will shrink 1.9% in 2013, but grow by 0.6% in 2014.

Still, Christmas will be a bleak affair for many Italians who have seen their incomes stuck at 1986 levels, Confcommercio has warned.

"It will be yet another Christmas of austerity," predicted Carlo Sangalli, Confcommercio president.