Italy's southern regions are at risk of “permanent underdevelopment” after a seven-year recession, as well as a steep drop in population and industrial output, a report published on Thursday by the Association for Industrial Development in Southern Italy (Svimez), warned.
The south's gross domestic product (GDP) declined again in 2014 – for the seventh year in a row – by 1.3 percent, the study showed, while its economic output grew by just 13 percent between 2001 and 2014.
This was an especially poor performance when compared to Greece's economy, which grew by 24 percent during the same period.
The figures paint a picture of an ever-widening wealth gap between Italy's north and south and make for alarming reading: one in three people are at risk of poverty in the south, compared to one in 10 in the north.
A dwindling population is also hindering chances of a southern revival: last year, just 174,000 births were registered in the south – the lowest in 150 years.
Meanwhile, young people are fleeing in their droves, sick at the slow pace of change and lack of opportunities, something which threatens to turn many small southern Italian cities into ghost-towns.
Between 2001 and 2014, 744,000 people moved to the center-north in search of better opportunities, of whom 534,000 were below the age of 34 and 205,000 were university graduates.
Alberto D'Alessandro, 25, was one of the people who left the south in 2014, moving from the Sicilian capital of Palermo to Milan.
“I'd recently graduated in design but there weren't any places to work in Palermo,” he told The Local. “There used to be until a few years ago, but then all the [companies] closed down.”
Within a year of moving to Milan, he completed a master's degree and found a job, something he insisted would have been impossible in Palermo.
“Even though I had no prior experience I was given the job. My bosses here trust and respect me, it really makes you think,” he said.
Italy's failure to narrow the divide risks creating a progressive loss of human, business and financial resources, as talented youngsters like D'Alessandro see their future either in the north or abroad.
The report warned that, sooner or later, a point of no return would be reached and the south would be condemned to “permanent underdevelopment”.
Delio Miotti, a researcher at Svimez, told The Local of the need to act fast.
“We have to work together with our European neighbours to draw trade and tourism to the area.”
But creating growth in the south is a problem successive governments have tried, and failed, to solve for the last 30 years.
“At the moment, there are no great plans,” Miotti added.