Some young folks think it's unfair that families need two incomes to get by today. They point to the 50s and 60s and wonder why it worked for Dad to earn an income and Mom to stay home with the kids.
Government intervention (health care, college, welfare, housing market, Cash for Clunkers, etc) has certainly driven up costs. But there's also been a change in the standard of living.
What was different 50-60 years ago that costs so much more now?
We have more toys now. Then you could not watch a movie at home. Then there were three TV stations (or fewer, depending on where you lived), and no way to record what you missed. If your family had a television, there was only one. No computers in the home. No cell phones. No answering machines. No video games. People had one coat and one dress-up outfit. Only one or two pair of shoes. Big events -- such as concerts or plays or major-league ballgames -- were available, but you'd attend only one every year or so.
Safety and health. No car seats or bicycle helmets or airbags or anti-lock brakes. No baby monitors. No lawsuits if you were injured. Few people had gym memberships. Cancer was feared because it not only meant death, but a painful death. Nursing homes were drab and miserable. People seemed old at 40 or 50 because they didn't have the therapists and the medications and supplements and the treatments that we have today that keep us well.
Creature comforts. Furnaces did not work so well. Windows were cheaper, but let in drafts. No air conditioning. If your family had a car, there was only one for the whole family to share. Houses were smaller, but more people (including multiple generations) lived in the house. Less traveling (and not by air). Long-distance calls were expensive, so you didn't often talk to people outside your local area. Smaller fridge. No microwave. No disposable diapers. Tools required muscle -- no weed-whackers, no power drills, no sanders, no leaf-blowers.
Most stores were closed on Sundays and in the evenings, which helped keep costs down for the store owners. It also made for less "recreational shopping."
College has become more expensive, but is considered "necessary" for jobs that really should be available to people who don't even have a high-school diploma.
Fifty years ago, a young person could move out on his own without a car and without a TV. Today the world has changed. Even for people who live more simply than most, there are still government requirements (such as health insurance and children's car seats) that dig into a family's pocketbook. Plus if frugal folks want to function in society, there is a need for phones, internet access, car(s), computer, and more.
So why is it so stinkin' hard for families to live on one income now? Partly because the government has "helped" us. And partly because we* expect to have so much more.
*And by "we" I mean we as a society. Even
if a particular person or family has different
values, the societal greed has an impact on all