At least one industry is thriving, hiring and paying really well. As more traditional job openings close, more and more women are finding gainful employment strutting their stuff in adult entertainment venues -- and some are finding that they're making more money than they did when they were fully dressed.
One young mother in Michigan who was laid off from her job in education had a hard time getting another job because she was told she was overqualified. Out of desperation, she took a job dancing at a strip club, and now, with tips, she usually clears more than $1,500 per night -- upwards of $60,000 per year, if she sticks with it.
-- See the average salary for an exotic dancer.
"Middle class, professional business women, housewives, women who have lost their jobs or been laid off and can not find work. They're coming in to us saying, 'I need a job,'" Catsman Enterprises Manager Nancy Vasko told an NBC News reporter.
Exotic dancing has become a big hit among suburban women as a form of exercise, if not as a way to make a living. There are pole dancing classes available in most cities across the United States, and websites like ArtofExoticDancing.com invite women to "Come gain the confidence to express your authentic self." FromMindtoBody.com directs women to pole dancing classes throughout the country, and they even have their own iPhone app.
But those classes are just for fun and fitness. When you're a professional exotic dancer, you have to slither and shimmy in scanty outfits while mostly drunk patrons ogle you and insert tips in uncomfortable places. There's also the smoke-filled, often unsanitary environment and late hours if you want to make the best tips.
There are also extreme emotional complications, in addition to the humiliation of telling family and friends what you actually do for a living. Jillian Lauren, author of Some Girls--My Life in a Harem, dropped out of New York University's Tisch School of the Arts at age 17, and began stripping to pay the bills. She admits to having extremely low self esteem, and she sought validation in all the wrong places.
"You work way too hard and you make (awful) money and you're gonna ruin your knees," one of her colleagues told her when she first started exotic dancing, but she didn't listen. It wasn't much of a leap to go from that to working for an escort service, spending time in a foreign harem, and becoming involved in substance abuse. It took many invaluable years of her life to get away from that life and those vices (Read Jillian's Story).
"Exotic dancing is one way to make extra money and it's a valid choice," Lauren says. "But it's only one option. Some people get in and get out successfully as an emergency measure. It all depends on how deep you get into it and what kind of a foundation you have."