ROME (Reuters) - One in five young Italians, or more than 2 million people, are not studying nor working, the highest percentage of "idle" youths in the European Union, the national statistics office said on Wednesday.
ISTAT said that 21.2 percent of Italians aged 15 to 29 were in a statistical group known as NEET -- Not in Education, Employment or Training -- almost double the percentage of inactive youths in Germany.
The figure refers to 2009 and is up from 19.2 percent the year before, mirroring rising youth unemployment during the economic crisis, ISTAT said.
"80 percent of job cuts involve young people, they are the segment that has been hit the hardest by the recession," Linda Laura Sabbadini, central director at ISTAT, said in an interview.
"It's alarming because it is a measure of social exclusion. The longer people stay without studying or working, the more difficult it becomes for them to either go back to school or find a job. These people are just hanging out in a limbo."
The proportion of youths who are neither working nor studying is higher in Italy's poorer south -- in some regions it is just below 30 percent.
But Sabbadini noted that it was rising even in the richer and more industrialized north.
Nineteen percent of young people drop out of school, and fewer than 20 percent of Italians in their 30s have a university degree, ISTAT said.
Italy's economy is slowly emerging from its worst post-war recession but growth, which has lagged European peers for well over a decade, is expected to remain sluggish.
At 25.4 percent, Italy's youth unemployment is also rising and nearly 6 percentage points above the European average.
reporting by Silvia Aloisi