Like millions of young Italians, Elio Vagali confronts career options that range from minimal to nonexistent. At 29, he has cleaned homes, picked tangerines and lifted rocks — nearly always off the books, without the protections of a full-time contract. In a measure of his desperation, his dream employer is the dilapidated steel mill that dominates life in this fading city on the Ionian Sea. The complex has been blamed for a cancer cluster in the surrounding community. Yet to Mr. Vagali, it beckons like a portal to another life, one that means moving out of his parents’ apartment. Except the plant isn’t hiring. “You either know somebody, or you don’t get in,” he said bitterly. “There’s nothing here for me.” All of which helps explain why Mr. Vagali and much of the Italian electorate is either indifferent or contemptuous of the national election campaign that, on March 4, will determine who runs Europe’s fourth-largest economy.
The country’s bleak prospects have improved in recent years, but not enough to meaningfully lift its citizens’ fortunes. Many companies are growing without hiring. What jobs have been created are largely temporary and part time.
Nearly 30 percent of voters are undecided, according to polls. The unpredictability of the outcome amid economic unhappiness has enhanced the chances that the result could generate financial tumult in Italy and threaten a fresh shock for Europe.
Anti-establishment parties are drawing support from the economically distressed — especially the populist Five Star movement, which is leading in many polls. Given that Five Star has previously called for Italy to ditch the euro currency, if it were to triumph it would present European leaders with a fresh challenge to the continent’s cohesion.