Ela Darling, adult film actress -- and drag on the national economy? Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg.
Ela Darling, adult film actress -- and drag on the national economy? Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the U.S. economy added 169,000 jobs in August. That’s less than the 180,000 expected by economists surveyed by Bloomberg, and also less than the average increase of 184,000 jobs over the past 12 months. Revisions to the data from June and July also mean that there are 74,000 fewer people working than reported earlier. The unemployment rate fell because workers, including those between the ages of 25 and 54, continued to drop out of the labor force.

All of this is disappointing but not so disappointing that it forces the Federal Reserve to deviate from its probable reduction of asset purchases, or quantitative easing, later this month. As Chairman Ben Bernanke and other Fed officials have stated, the default expectation is that asset purchases will have stopped by the time the unemployment rate falls to 7 percent. This is because Fed policy makers no longer believe that asset purchases have a positive impact and also believe that QE comes with costs. Much of the bad news in August can be attributed to a shutdown in the porn-film industry that doesn’t reflect the underlying health of the economy. More importantly, job growth isn’t weak relative to what the Fed has tolerated for years.

One of the big surprises in today’s report was the 6 percent decline in the number of people working in the “motion picture and sound recording industries.” Wags on Twitter proceeded to list their least-favorite summer flops as explanations, but Jim Tankersley at the Washington Post had a better idea: the U.S. porn industry stopped working for a week after an actress tested positive for HIV. Once it became clear that no one else had the disease, work resumed. The one-week shutdown would affect the jobs numbers for the month of August but tells us nothing about the broader state of the U.S. economy. Had those 22,000 people been working, employment growth in August would have modestly beaten expectations. Fed officials are probably writing off this month’s weakness for that very reason.

A longer-term perspective makes it even more obvious why the Fed probably won’t delay “tapering” its asset-purchase program. The U.S. economy has added an average of 162,000 jobs a month since employment bottomed at the beginning of 2010. Although the pace of gains has varied somewhat over the past 3 1/2years, it always seems to revert to this slow and steady pace. Even under the most optimistic assumptions, it will take at least another four years of this mediocre growth before we return to full employment.

The pace of improvement hasn’t changed much since the Fed began its latest round of asset purchases, suggesting that the bar for success was relatively low to start with. (The positive interpretation is that the Fed succeeded in offsetting the impact of the tax increases and spending cuts imposed earlier this year.)

Policy makers have tolerated an employment disaster with equanimity for several years. It’s difficult to see why a relatively small disappointment in the latest set of data should cause the Fed to rethink its plans.

(Matthew C. Klein is a writer for Bloomberg View. Follow him on Twitter.)