No word on whether the robots want a raise too.  Photographer: Ty Wright/Bloomberg
No word on whether the robots want a raise too.  Photographer: Ty Wright/Bloomberg

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen -- most recently in today's Congressional testimony -- has signaled that she'd like to see U.S. workers getting paid more, and that she's not terribly concerned about inflation getting out of control if they do.

Judging from how workers typically fare in recoveries, Yellen is right: They're long overdue for a raise.

Productivity data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggest that workers have gotten an unusually raw deal so far in this recovery. Their hourly compensation, adjusted for inflation, has risen only 0.1 percent from June 2009 thought March 2014, despite output per hour having increased 6.5 percent. In the five previous recoveries of comparable length, workers' real wages increased by about half as much as their productivity.

In other words, pretty much all the benefits of workers' increased productivity have so far gone to corporate profits, not to them. To restore the traditional balance, compensation would have to rise at a faster rate than overall inflation. If it doesn't, U.S. policy makers might have a different problem on their hands: a balance of power that has shifted in favor of the owners of corporations, to the detriment of those who make their living by selling their labor.

To contact the writer of this article: Mark Whitehouse at mwhitehouse1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this article: Tobin Harshaw at tharshaw@bloomberg.net.