FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — For more and more women the road to economic recovery includes garter belts, g-strings and four-inch plexiglass heels.
Take, Stephanie White, for example. She recently registered to dance at Sugar Daddy’s in West Palm Beach, Fla. She said she has been looking for a full-time job for more than a year to help support her 2-year-old son, Lawrence.
“They’re not hiring,” said White, 20. But stripping? “It’s something I want to do. Fast money,” she said.
As the economy tanked in 2009, more women registered for adult entertainment licenses in Palm Beach County than any year since the program began.
With full-time jobs scarce or simply not enough to pay the bills, many of these women flocked to local strip clubs that were more than happy to see an influx of potential dancers.
But even the clubs have suffered from the sluggish economy. Customers have switched from handing out fives and tens to sheepishly dropping singles.
“We have been touched by the economy, but we’re still doing well,” said Karen Vercher, president of the company that manages the Spearmint Rhino club in West Palm Beach. “Our customer count is growing, but per-spending is down.”
The county’s licensing requirement began in 1999 to prevent underage girls from dancing nude. Dancers pay a one-time fee of $75 and receive an identification card.
Clubs that employ unlicensed dancers can be fined. Dancers can be fined and arrested for working without a license.
Since 1999, almost 7,000 women, including about 1,000 last year, have registered for adult entertainment licenses.
There are no male strip clubs registered in Palm Beach County and only a small number of male dancers with licenses.
To get the licenses, dancers walk into the Palm Beach County Emergency Operations Center lobby, meet administrative assistant Barbara Wilmoth and, as she tells everyone, “smile for the camera.”
“Sometimes they come in with little children and it just breaks your heart,” Wilmoth said. “You give them crayons and coloring books to keep them occupied while Mom gets an ID.”
Wilmoth and her supervisor, Midge Keegan, saw the 2009 surge first-hand. They said things have cooled so far in 2010, but that the numbers usually go up in the summer.
“For awhile, we did pick up quite a few because they were out of money,” Keegan said. “You’ll have a few more of the ‘I’m out of work’ people. We had a lot who are putting their kids through school.”
On the day that White registered, she filled out an application, got her picture taken and walked out within 10 minutes. Within two hours, three other women had come in to go through the process.
But working mothers like her will have intense competition.
One woman, who wanted to be referred to only by her stage name, Kiara, said dancing has gotten much more difficult since she started in 2000. More dancers and fewer dollars have made getting by a struggle.
“The economy is so hard,” Kiara said. “I used to get $2,000 to $3,000 a night. Now I get $300. Everything is so different.”
Not long afterward, two young New York women giggled as they looked at their new ID cards. Candice Serafine, 20, and Lauren Trezza, 18, were in for only two weeks but wanted to make some extra cash dancing at Spearmint Rhino before they left.
“I just like doing it better than a full-time job,” Trezza said. She giggled and half-yelled, “Buy more Gucci!”