In the 1950's families routinely supported themselves on the earnings of a single full-time job. So on the surface at least the idea seems plausible. But a lot of things have changed since then.
Most notably women entered the workforce in large numbers, even as new labor-saving technologies have greatly reduced the demand for labor in the manufacturing sector. More recently trade and immigration have come into the picture. The effect of these changes has been to depress wages. As a consequence in big cities today it is almost impossible for one-earner families to compete for housing in good neighborhoods with good public schools.
A second change is that two cars instead of one have become standard necessities in two- earner households. As is spending on childcare and organized play activities. Families eat out in fast-food restaurants more often than before and spend more money on pizzas and other pre-prepared foods.
Finally, people live longer today than they did in the 1950's. Retirement has become a much bigger issue. Couples must now set aside money to finance decades of independent living and for possible nursing-home care at the ends of their lives.
To estimate what the new standard of living might be, therefore, we need to look at the differences in income and expenses that a typical family of four might experience, paying particular attention to five items we mentioned above:
In addition we will look at taxes -- under present law families would qualify for earned-income tax credits -- and possible changes in real hourly earnings.
Ironically, should this new way of living prove financially viable, what looks like an almost insuperable organizational problem today could turn out to be the only "affordable" solution for hard-pressed working families tomorrow.