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?

89118767
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

Advertisement

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.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Irritating Confidante

John Dickerson on Ben Bradlee’s fascinating relationship with John F. Kennedy.

My Father Invented Social Networking at a Girls’ Reform School in the 1930s

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

The All The President’s Men Scene That Captured Ben Bradlee

Medical Examiner

Is It Better to Be a Hero Like Batman?

Or an altruist like Bruce Wayne?

Technology

Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

The World’s Human Rights Violators Are Signatories on the World’s Human Rights Treaties

How Punctual Are Germans?

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 12:44 AM We Need More Ben Bradlees His relationship with John F. Kennedy shows what’s missing from today’s Washington journalism.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Working
Oct. 22 2014 6:00 AM Why It’s OK to Ask People What They Do David Plotz talks to two junior staffers about the lessons of Working.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 9:42 PM The All The President’s Men Scene That Perfectly Captured Ben Bradlee’s Genius
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 21 2014 11:44 PM Driving in Circles The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.