by Josephine McKenna
ROME, MAY 2 (Xinhua) -- As the economic situation worsens in debt-ridden Italy, Rosella Daniele considers herself one of the lucky ones.
After graduating from university in the southern city of Salerno a year ago, the 25-year-old has finally found an internship in an office in Rome.
But she is earning no salary and has no guarantee of a job when her contract ends in six months.
"It is not easy," Daniele told Xinhua. "Without obtaining any experience you cannot begin to work."
According to the latest government figures released by the National Institute for Statistics (ISTAT), the unemployment rate rose to 9.8 percent in March, the highest level since 2000.
There are now more than 2.5 million unemployed in Italy -- 23.4 percent more than the number recorded a year ago. Young Italians are bearing the brunt of the crisis with almost 36 percent between the age of 15 and 24 now looking for work.
Daniele was forced to move to the Italian capital from her hometown of Salerno, south of Naples, because there were no opportunities locally for a communications graduate.
Many of her friends have decided to move to Paris or London in search of work but she refuses to leave Italy.
"Someone has to stay and I am optimistic about the future," she said. "Sooner or later it will improve even if it is not on the horizon now."
Emma Marcegaglia, the head of the largest employer organization Confindustria, on Wednesday described the unemployment numbers as "worrying," while trade union leaders called for urgent steps to promote growth.
"We must change the policy of severity and recession to a policy of growth," said Susanna Camusso, leader of the largest trade union CGIL.
Italians are reeling from the latest unemployment figures as they deal with the burden of higher taxes and charges. Inflation is steady at 3.3 percent but petrol prices have risen more than 20 percent.
After slipping into its fourth recession since 2001 in the final three months of last year, there is concern that the economy will fall deeper into recession this year.
A new survey released on Wednesday by IPR Marketing conducted for the Association of Italian Christian Workers (Acli) found that 60.2 percent of Italians are weighed down by the economic crisis and 44.7 percent are insecure and worried about the future.
Of greater concern is the fear among more than 40 percent that the country will be a lot worse off when it eventually comes out of recession.
The latest statistics were released as the government called on Italians to report instances of public waste as part of a spending review it hopes will generate 4.2 billion euros in extra state funds.
Parliament is continuing to debate controversial labor reforms designed to make it easier to hire and fire workers, while earlier this week, the International Labor Organization (ILO) warned government austerity measures could prolong recession and hamper growth.
"In order to reduce the government deficit, the tax burden has been increased, and it is estimated to reach 45 percent in 2012," the ILO said.
"Such austerity measures risk having a pro-cyclical effect on the recession, postponing economic recovery and fiscal consolidation," it said.
In the northern city of Turin, local academics are spearheading an initiative with the Chamber of Commerce that is helping to build new businesses and create jobs.
Gianni Guerra, an engineering professor at the Politecnico University in Turin, is working with the Chamber and the University of California at Los Angeles' Anderson School of Management to promote local businesses and give them greater global access.
He said the program had helped to create 140 new companies in engineering, aeronautics and information technology in the past decade.
"There are many ways to create employment and one of them is to help entrepreneurs," Guerra told Xinhua.
"In Italy, we have overcome difficult situations in the past and we will come out of this in some way," he said.
While many in Italy lament the "brain drain" that is forcing young people to search for work abroad, Guerra said it was positive for the country's youth to learn new ideas and bring them back home.