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What's one of the best insurance policies against a recession? Finish high school.

Those are the findings of a Statistics Canada paper published Wednesday. It found nearly one in four dropouts aged 20 to 24 were unable to find work in the thick of the recession – and that the gap between their jobless rate and their counterparts who graduated widened.

"Even among those [dropouts] who did find work, their earnings were less than those with a high school diploma, regardless of whether they worked in the public or private sector," the study said.

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Just before the downturn, the jobless rate for dropouts was 18 per cent, more than double the rate of 8.4 per cent among recent high school graduates who were not in school. In the deepest part of the recession, the rate for dropouts hit 21.3 per cent, and climbed further to 23.2 per cent early this year.

That's about twice as much as for recent high school completers who were not enrolled in school.

They also worked longer hours for less pay. Dropouts who worked full time in 2009-2010 toiled almost one hour more per week than high school graduates who were not in school. But they were earning about $70 less per week on average.

Dropouts tend to work in the sectors that were hardest hit during the recession, the study found -- sales and services, trades, transport and equipment operators, and occupations related to primary industry or manufacturing. They're also less likely to belong to a union.

The silver lining is that fewer Canadians are dropping out. The percentage of dropouts has nearly halved from 1990 levels, when 16.6 per cent of people in their early twenties had not finished high school.

Dropout rates in 2009-2010 are much lower for young women, at 6.6 per cent, than for young men, at 10.3 per cent though that gap is narrowing. Rates are also lower for young immigrants than for their Canadian-born counterparts, though the dropout rate among Aboriginal youth is nearly triple the average.

Rates have fallen in all provinces. The biggest decline has been in most of the Atlantic provinces, particularly Newfoundland and Labrador. Percentage-wise, the highest dropout rates are in Manitoba and Quebec.

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