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One in three high school students looking to start work in April had failed to find a job as of Dec. 31, suggesting this is the toughest job market ever faced by graduating students, according to a survey released Friday by the education ministry.

Just 66.3 percent of students had secured employment, down 1.5 percentage points from a year earlier. This figure marks a slight increase from the 60.3 percent recorded in a survey Nov. 30 by the labor ministry.

Around 80,000 prospective graduates had not received any employment offers as of the end of year, according to the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry.

About 1.29 million students are due to graduate from high school in March.

Of these, some 238,000, or 18.5 percent, said in the December poll they planned to find work. This figure marks a decline of around 4,000 students from an Oct. 31 poll by the education ministry, indicating that many students have abandoned plans to enter the workforce and are considering other options.

The employment situation is apparently tougher on women.

The latest poll indicates that 70.9 percent of male students have arranged jobs, compared with only 60.9 percent of female students.

By prefecture, Gifu had the highest ratio at 84.5 percent. Toyama ranked second at 83.9 percent.

Okinawa was at the bottom with 32 percent, with Kochi next to last with 51.5 percent.

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