Other economic factors are at play in preventing social tumult despite youth unemployment of 37 percent:
— Italy’s robust underground cash economy allows many young people to work four or five months a year in sectors such as tourism, allowing them to pad their pockets with cash — albeit with corrosive consequences for the nation’s tax receipts.
— Unlike Spain, Italy has avoided a housing bubble. Housing prices are steady in a country with 80 percent home ownership. It means legions of families, many of modest means, may have a home in the city and another in the countryside, perhaps in a town where their family originated, allowing them to take the kind of holidays that foreigners fantasize about — passing days in idyllic settings and feasting on cheap local specialties.
— And Italians are exemplary savers, unlike their government, which has been placed under international scrutiny for its poor handling of public debt, now over 126 percent of GDP and expected to worsen.
A new study by Pioneer Investments and Unicredit found Italian savings are four times its public debt, or €8.5 trillion compared with a debt of nearly €2 trillion. In other words, Italy’s public debt is 22 percent of its private wealth — which puts it in line with Germany and the United States. Italy in 2011 had higher household financial assets than France and Germany, and was above the eurozone average, according to the Italian Banking Association.
‘‘It has been this high rate of financial wealth and the capacity of Italian families to save compared with other European countries that has protected Italy from the crisis,’’ said Giovanni Sabatini, general director of the Italian Banking Association.
As the crisis wears on, Sabatini says, ‘‘family debts are growing, and the capital is being eroded ... But the starting point was very elevated, which still guarantees the solidity of the system.’’
There is a flip side: While family welfare provides a cushion, it does not allow efficient distribution of resources and leaves the younger generation at the mercy of those that came before. It’s not for nothing that Italy is known as a gerontocracy, where the strings are pulled by the elderly — from the highest levels of government to big business to the extended family.
‘‘If there were a way to institutionalize the passage of this wealth, things would be more natural compared to the current condition, which is tied to generosity,’’ said Marcello Calabro, who ran the study for Pioneer.
Social buffers have also encouraged many people, like Tartarini, to ignore signs of the crisis and carry on in the hope they can outlast it. And ‘‘la bella figura’’ can create an illusion that all is well when in fact things are falling apart.
‘‘It is a crisis of identity,’’ said the Rev. Giovanni Sandona, coordinator for the Catholic charity Caritas in northeastern Italy. ‘‘It is not just an economic crisis.’’
When Tartarini’s world crumbled, he found he could rely on friends and Catholic charity.
These days, Tartarini takes whatever handyman jobs found by the nuns at his Vicenza parish. And friends take him on trips to the grocery store, where they pay for his, too.
Tartarini, in well-worn work clothes and heavy black shoes, spent a recent morning preparing to move with his wife and 25-year-old son from a rented accommodation he could no longer afford into a free vacated apartment belonging to the parish church of Nove, a ceramic-making town north of Vicenza. Caritas has reached out to parishes with empty residential properties to house people who have lost their lodging in the crisis.
‘‘For me, it’s an incredible thing,’’ Tartarini said. ‘‘I had a few days in which I didn’t know where I would go.’’