Italy’s Pizza Problem: Who Wants a Life of Pie?
A shortage of pizza makers has Italians cheezed off.
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The Fiscal Times
May 1, 2013

Italians have tasted plenty of pain over the past few years. Italy’s unemployment rate, now near a two-decade high at 11.5 percent, has been above 10 percent for 14 months straight. Even after finally swearing in a new coalition government, the prospects for real structural reforms may be slim.

“The recession in Italy is one of the deepest in the eurozone and so far there are hardly any signs of a recovery,” Fitch Ratings said Wednesday. “Furthermore, the medium-term potential growth rate of the Italian economy is low even by European standards.” Fitch estimated that growth potential at around 1 percent. The near-term outlook is worse, as Italy’s economy is set to shrink 1.8 percent this year, according to a recent forecast from Moody’s Investors Service.

But a number of overheated media reports this week have had some cheesy fun pointing out the latest Italian calamity: a shortage of skilled pizza makers. Italy’s economic crisis just got serious.

The tough economic times have made pizza an increasingly popular food option in Italy, where, according to Italian business group FIPE, some 25,000 pizzerias with 240,000 workers rack up sales of about 9 billion euros (nearly $12 billion) a year. Italian pizzerias need 6,000 more skilled pizzamakers, “but despite the crisis and unemployment it is hard to find them,” a FIPE report from last month said.

FIPE said that at least one in five pizzeria managers have recruited workers without formal training.

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“Italians may be reluctant to get their hands dirty by stoking ovens and kneading dough, but foreign immigrants have no such qualms and are now filling the gap, producing an increasing share of the three billion pizzas that Italians eat each year,” British newspaper The Telegraph noted this week. “Egyptians have shown themselves to be particularly adept at mastering the art of the perfect pizza and now run many of the pizza restaurants and hole-in-the-wall takeaways in big cities like Rome, Milan and Turin.”

Only about 100 Egyptians are training to be pizzaioli each year, according to The Telegraph, but the notion that Italians aren’t stepping up to the knead has elicited some discussion about Italian pride and the role of immigrant workers. “’Menial’ work is relative,” Jason L. Riley writes today at The Wall Street Journal. “The willingness of Egyptians to do jobs that Italians spurn is not necessarily a reflection of the Italian work ethic.”

One pizzeria manager from Rome, talking to The Telegraph, suggested otherwise, hinting that young Italians have pie-in-the-sky dreams. "The Italian mindset is that being a pizza-maker is humiliating, it is a manual labor job," he told the newspaper. "Young Italians want to own 40,000 euro cars and wear nice clothes but they are not prepared to work for it.”

Another Italian pizzamaker suggested to ABC News that it’s all about the dough: “It’s a hard job, but it has great satisfaction,” he said. “You can get an immigrant worker to work for much less and longer hours so the pizzeria owner opts for that even if they may not be good at making pizzas.”

Executive Editor Yuval Rosenberg oversees coverage of business, the economy, technology and Wall Street. A former web editor at WNYC, Fortune and Newsweek, he also writes on a wide range of subjects.