NAPLES, ITALY - 14 APRIL 2020: Mario Palumbo (32), a cook that had a short-time contract that did not get renewed as the restaurant's business dropped in March, poses for a portrait in Naples, Italy, on April 14th 2020. Mario Palumbo lives with his mother and his sister in a council flat in Naples' outskirts. As the epidemic hit Italy, the three found themselves only relying on the 300 basic income check his mother receives every month. Mr. Palumbo, who dropped out of school in 10th grade to provide for his family after his father died. His sister, 27, who worked off the book in a clothes shop that had to close, is not eligible for unemployment benefits or state help.
Southern Italians are facing a war on two fronts. Italy’s coronavirus epidemic, among the deadliest in the world with nearly 20,000 deaths, exploded in the country’s wealthy north, where it stretched one of Europe’s most sophisticated healthcare systems to the limits and shut down the country’s economic engine. But it is the country’s poorer, less developed south that has loomed over the entire crisis and which figured prominently in the government’s decision to lock down all of Italy last month.
The south is facing economic carnage not seen since the post-war era. The region’s poor, used to scraping by with temporary contracts or off-the-books jobs, are now increasingly dependent on handouts. Scattered, but troubling, reports of unrest at supermarkets puncture the Italian narrative of patriotic sacrifice. And officials are concerned that criminal organizations that have long infiltrated the black market, the health systems and many other facets of southern life are seeking to exploit the crisis by substituting reluctant banks as providers of loans and, in some cases, food.
The existence of the widespread use off-the-books workers in the South’s vibrant “street economy,” meant that the lockdowns hit hard families that had no access to the government’s targeted relief packages