Southern Italy has the worst graduate employment rates in the EU, according to new data published on Thursday which highlighted the impoverished region’s economic dysfunction.

Only one in three recent graduates is in employment in the area, less than half the EU average and the worst of any region in the bloc, including the poorest parts of Greece and Spain.

Before the financial crisis the south of Italy had been converging with the north in terms of GDP per capita, but since then the divide has been increasing — with consequences for young people’s employment prospects.

More than half of the 10 worst EU regions for graduate employment are in Italy, according to the Eurostat statistics. Sicily performed the worst of all: the employment rate for recent graduates dropped by 5 percentage points to 27 per cent in 2018.

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Economists warned that the trend was one of the main factors driving the emigration of Italy’s working-age population.

“It is very likely that these recent graduates will vote with their feet,” said Nicola Nobile at Oxford Economics. “The human capital deficit between the north and the south will therefore not diminish, continuing a vicious cycle.”

Italy lacks advanced companies that require graduates and has limited hiring capacity in public administration, which used to a major source of job opportunities for higher-skilled people.

“The majority of the Italian economy, in particular in the south, is concentrated in traditional, low-productivity sectors where there is little demand for high-level skills,” said Andrea Garnero, an economist at the OECD.

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