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After Italy’s pandemic nightmare, economy falters — and poverty spreads

The global economy is likely to take a massive hit from the pandemic, and the World Bank warns poverty levels will rise as a result. It’s already happening in Italy, Europe's third-largest economy. The country suffered a devastating human toll from coronavirus, and now an estimated 1 million additional Italians are unable to afford their basic needs. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    By some estimates, the global economy will take a $12 trillion hit from the COVID-19 pandemic. It's already happening in Italy, the third largest economy in Europe.

    From the town of Grottammare on the Adriatic Coast, special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports.

  • Malcom Brabant:

    Four-month-old Angelo looks contented. At his tender age, he has no idea just how vulnerable he is. But Angelo's Nigerian mother is worried about where his next meal will come from, which is why she's lined up outside this food bank. She didn't want to give her name.

  • Woman:

    With the COVID, it's a little bit difficult to feed my son. So, I just came to pick some few things to feed my son.

  • Malcom Brabant:

    It's not just disadvantaged immigrants who are reliant on food banks. Italians who'd managed to cope before the pandemic are seeking help.

    Before COVID struck, Samuela Paoloni was supporting both her sister and mother. Now all three are virtually destitute.

  • Samuela Paoloni (through translator):

    I used to be a baby-sitter, but now I can't find anything.

  • Malcom Brabant:

    This food bank in a disused cinema is the tip of a global iceberg. It's estimated that an extra one million Italians have fallen beneath the poverty line as a result of COVID-19.

    And around the world, according to Oxfam, it's estimated that 500 million people are now considered to be poor as a result of the pandemic.

    The distribution center serving 100 food banks along the central Adriatic Coast is dependent on gifts. The pandemic has stimulated generosity, with supermarkets and restaurants donating food that would otherwise have gone to waste.

    Their contributions have been essential because of the increased demand from the streets. The operation is run by Francesco Galieni.

  • Francesco Galieni (through translator):

    This is certainly a very sad situation, seeing people struggling, especially children. We have had alerts that children are really in need of food aid. In Italy, it's estimated that a million children need food aid because they're going hungry.

  • Malcom Brabant:

    It's collection day for the parish of the 16th century Pope Saint Pius V. The church in Grottammare is feeding 50 families, which means about 150 people in total. The collection is being supervised by parish priest Don Federico Pompei.

  • Federico Pompei:

    With COVID-19, poverty has increased. The poverty that existed has become more profound. And those who were poor have become even poorer. Those who weren't poor are on the verge of becoming the new poor.

  • Malcom Brabant:

    Sixty-five-year-old shoemaker Giuseppe is one of the new poor. Divorce and losing his home before the pandemic were bad enough. But his troubles were just beginning. When COVID struck, his temporary contract with a shoe factory was canceled. He has no idea when he might work again.

  • Giuseppe (through translator):

    How do you expect me to feel? I can't describe it. I can't find the right word. I feel demoralized. I'm not use to this kind of thing, because I have always had a job.

  • Malcom Brabant:

    Like other food bank clients, Giuseppe has been given an appointment, so social distancing can be applied. He collects staples, such as pasta and cooking oil. Giuseppe has fixed expenses, including $400 monthly rent, and has to keep his car running in case a job surfaces.

  • Giuseppe (through translator):

    It's a help. It means I can save some money. But it's the bare minimum. You get given some stuff, but it's not everything you need.

  • Malcom Brabant:

    But Giuseppe's dependence on food aid could last longer than he expected because the Italian shoe industry is in trouble.

    Giampietro Melchiorri's shoe factory is treading water. Half of his 30 staff are furloughed. Last year, the company grossed $7 million from shoes like these that retailed for $250 to $400. Before the pandemic began, the company had hoped to expand.

    Now Melchiorri fears disaster.

  • Giampietero Melchiorri (through translator):

    Unfortunately, on the 21st of March, when the prime minister told us to shut down, personally, my dream was shattered. Our objectives were no longer attainable. It was as if the world totally collapsed on us.

  • Malcom Brabant:

    Other shoe factories are also suffering a similar downturn in fortunes, so, unless he gets a lucky break, Giuseppe must conserve his handout for as long as possible.

  • Giampietero Melchiorri (through translator):

    It certainly is a help. I can't tell you if it's going to last me for 10 or 20 days. It depends.

  • Malcom Brabant:

    The elderly helpers at the food bank are shy about their volunteer work. They don't want to give their full names.

  • Erica (through translator):

    We are concerned. When you see people going hungry, you can't be untroubled.

  • Malcom Brabant:

    The Catholic Church is at the heart of Italian society. In this parish, charity is essential because of what Father Don Federico believes are the inadequacies of the state.

  • Federico Pompei (through translator):

    What needs to happen is that the promises of aid need to become reality. Unfortunately, bureaucracy is slowing things up a lot. People are struggling because their needs aren't satisfied.

  • Malcom Brabant:

    Over the past week, an average of 11 Italians have died every day from COVID, down from 900 a day in March.

    If that trend continues, the economy stands a better chance of recovery, and so do the new poor. But if a second wave comes, then, across the world and in Italy, more people will go hungry.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Malcolm Brabant in Grottammare.

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