When Daniela Vicino started work as a teacher in Sicily three decades ago, she had up to 30 children in her classes. With the birthrate tumbling, that number has almost halved.
There are now “18-20 at best, and even 15-16 in some cases,” she told reporters in the southeastern town of Caltagirone. “It is a very painful thing.”
Italy has long suffered one of the lowest birthrates in Europe, but the situation has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic — saddling the country with problems that go well beyond empty cribs.
Last year, the Italian population shrank by almost 400,000 — roughly the size of the city of Florence — to 59.3 million as deaths peaked, births bottomed out and immigration slowed down.
At a conference on the decline of the birthrate on Friday also attended by Pope Francis, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said that the average age of Italians was 47, “the highest in Europe.”
“An Italy without children is an Italy that has no place for the future, it is an Italy which slowly ceases to exist,” he said.
Experts have said that fewer children today mean fewer tax-paying workers tomorrow, making any country less productive and less capable of providing for its aging population.
This has long been a concern for Western societies, but the threat looms larger in Italy, already the most sluggish economy within the G7 club of industrialized nations.
Draghi has promised more nurseries, support for working women and mortgage help for young couples as part of Italy’s 221 billion euro (US$268 billion), EU-funded pandemic recovery plan.
Italy’s social security system is skewed toward the elderly, with health and pensions taking a lion’s share of the budget.
The hilltop town of Caltagirone is famous for its ceramics and UNESCO-protected baroque architecture.
However, like much of southern Italy, it is also economically depressed and is a flashpoint of the demographic crisis.
The number of babies born there each year halved between 1999 and 2019, dropping from 532 to just 265, according to national statistics agency Istat, putting it in the top 10 of Italian towns in terms of declining birthrate.
“The figures do not surprise me,” Caltagirone Mayor Gino Ioppolo told reporters — while attributing at least part of the trend to outside factors.
He noted the closing in 2019 of a large migrant camp in nearby Mineo, whose residents used the birth unit of Caltagirone’s hospital.
Still, the demographic decline is apparent at Vicino’s elementary school, where five classes of fifth graders are set to finish next month, and would be replaced in September by only two classes.
At another local school, principal and ex-Caltagirone mayor Franco Pignataro said pupil numbers had plummeted by about one-third in the past 15 to 20 years, to about 1,200.
“In the last few years, the situation has really got worse,” he said, adding that young people were leaving Caltagirone in droves, because “there are no job opportunities.”
Local resident Luca Giarmana, 27, admitted to being part of a minority.
Out of his high-school class — almost 30 people — 90 percent have left town and only one has a child, he said.
“It’s linked to a general decline in the economy over the last 20 years, to difficulty in finding work, difficulty in having a stable situation — which are all prerequisites for deciding to start a family,” he said.
In 2012, Italy saw births fall to the lowest level since it became a nation-state in 1861, to about 534,000. Since then, new record lows have been established every year.
Last year, as COVID-19 swept the country, the figure fell to 404,000.
For this year, Istat expects a further drop to 384,000 to 393,000 — largely due to an expected post-pandemic baby bust across the world.
In December last year and January — nine months after COVID-19 took hold in Italy — new births fell, year-on-year, by about 10 and 14 percent respectively.
As part of its strategy to reverse the demographic decline, the government is working on a so-called Family Act due to introduce more generous child benefits, longer parental leave for fathers and other incentives.
The plan has been welcomed by experts, even if it might take years to have an impact.
One said that according to surveys, Italian couples say on average that they would like to have two children — even if the actual fertility rate fell to 1.24 births per woman last year.
“There is a gap between the desired number of children, and the actual number people have,” said Leonardo Becchetti, a political economist at Rome’s Tor Vergata university.
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing’s (TSMC, 台積電) first wafer fab in Kumamoto, Japan is still set to launch commercial production in the fourth quarter of this year as planned, the world’s largest contract chipmaker said on Saturday in response to reports that mass production might begin ahead of schedule. TSMC said the monthly production capacity of the joint venture fab, Japan Advanced Semiconductor Manufacturing (JASM), is expected to hit 55,000 units of 12-inch wafers, using the mature 12-nanometer, 16-nanometer, 22-nanometer and 28-nanometer processes. JASM is owned by TSMC and its Japanese business partners Sony Semiconductor Solutions Corp and Denso Corp, with the Taiwanese company
US President Joe Biden’s administration is in talks to confer more than US$10 billion in subsidies to Intel Corp, people familiar with the matter said, in what would be the largest award yet under a plan to bring semiconductor manufacturing back to US soil. Intel’s award package is expected to include both loans and direct grants, the source said. They stressed that negotiations are still under way. The US Department of Commerce and Intel declined to comment. The incentives would come from the 2022 Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) and Science Act, which set aside US$39 billion in direct grants as
German automaker Volkswagen (VW) on Wednesday said that it was discussing the future of its activities in China’s troubled Xinjiang region, following fresh allegations of human rights abuses. The Handelsblatt daily reported that forced labor might have been used to build a test track in Turpan, Xinjiang, in 2019. VW said it had seen no evidence of human rights violations in connection with the project, but vowed to investigate any new information that came to light. In an apparent sign of the growing pressure on the group over its presence in the region, VW added that it was in talks with its Chinese
A new artificial intelligence (AI) tool that promises to create short videos from simple text commands has raised concerns along with questions from artists and media professionals. OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT and image generator DALL-E, on Thursday said it was testing a text-to-video model called “Sora” that can allow users to create realistic videos with simple prompts. The San Francisco-based start-up said that Sora can “generate complex scenes with multiple characters, specific types of motion, and accurate details of the subject and background,” but added that it still has limitations, such as possibly “mixing up left and right.” Examples of Sora-created clips