No, porn didn't cause this month's weak jobs report.

Did Pornography Really Cause This Month's Weak Jobs Report?

Did Pornography Really Cause This Month's Weak Jobs Report?

Business Insider
Analyzing the top news stories across the web
Sept. 6 2013 5:55 PM

Did Pornography Really Cause This Month's Weak Jobs Report?

A woman talks with managers during a job fair for the adult entertainment industry July 20, 2009 in San Francisco, California.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

This post originally appeared in Business Insider.

By Josh Barro


This month's non-farm payrolls report came in a little weaker than expected, and Jim Tankersley has an explanation for why: The film industry lost a whopping 22,000 jobs, more than the amount by which the total jobs report missed estimates. He attributes this to a temporary shutdown of the adult film industry last month due to an HIV scare.

It's a provocative theory. But it's wrong.

I spoke with John Mullins, an economist in the Current Employment Statistics division at the Bureau of Labor Statistics. He explained to me that the August jobs report counts you as "employed" if you were on the payroll for any part of the pay period including August 12. The porn industry shutdown ran from August 21 to 27. So, while the shutdown put a substantial number of people out of work for a week, their job losses would not have shown up in the BLS report.

So, why did film production have such a weak month? Mullins isn't sure, but he did note that the industry has highly volatile employment in general. There is also the issue of sampling error: Employment data are noisy month-to-month, and the longer term trend in film production employment has been pretty flat. In other words, this month's bad number might be just a blip in the statistics.


In researching this piece, I initially suspected another reason that porn wouldn't matter for non-farm payrolls: Porn performers are typically independent contractors. If you're not a payroll employee, you never show up in the non-farm payrolls survey, so the numbers aren't affected if you get put out of work. But Joanne Cachapero, spokeswoman for the Free Speech Coalition, an adult-industry trade association, told me that's only true of on-camera workers:

Everyone behind the scenes is an employee and therefore paying payroll taxes and with a W2. This can range from a very small shoot with 4-5 people behind the scenes, to a huge feature production which might have 20 or more behind the scenes. Directors, editors, camera, people, lighting, grips, production assistants, make up and wardrobe, catering, drivers, graphic artists, publicists—all are affected.

In other words, a longer porn shutdown that covered an entire pay period could cause a significant dip in reported film production employment. That's just not what happened this month.