In the past 30 years, U.S. life expectancy has increased by an average of five years. Since 1935, when Social Security was first enacted, it has increased by almost 18 years. It’s no wonder that Americans are working more years as they enjoy longer, healthier lives thanks to improved healthcare and technology.

Unfortunately, the federal government hasn’t altered its plans to match the growing number of entitlement beneficiaries hitting their 80s and 90s. The default payment methods definitive of many entitlement programs are hurting America’s economy and pushing the United States deeper into a debt that already tops $14.3 trillion. Reform is required.

Social Security, Medicare and other social entitlement programs were created as safety nets for the elderly, those down on their luck or those experiencing overbearing unexpected financial hardship. Today, such programs are utilized by nearly everyone, and money is running low for those on the early side of 50.

Not only do these programs eat up roughly 50% of our federal budget, but the entitlement culture discourages savings and creates the false notion that government should be taking care of individuals. The reality that Social Security and Medicare will not exist in current form for many young adults has yet to sink in for lawmakers or the young people affected.

The Heritage Saving the American Dream plan reminds:

The underlying problem that it addresses is simple: The government is doing things it should not be doing and spending far more than we can afford to pay or should be paying. It is time to start moving decisively toward a federal government that is limited and carries out its appropriate function.

According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s latest study, working significantly longer may be the only real option for folks to have enough money to survive in older age. While working longer is a natural side effect of living longer, it should not be forced to the extreme because of poor decisions being made by today’s legislators.

Reforming America’s entitlement programs today, as laid out in Heritage’s Saving the American Dream plan, is essential if we want any of these programs to be available tomorrow. It’s certainly beneficial for workers to plan on delaying retirement by several years, thanks to today’s longer life spans. This provides the opportunity for people to support themselves and save extra money so they can rely less on the government later.

An article at MarketWatch reports:

Americans who work past age 65 who continue to save for retirement in a 401(k) or some such account earmarked for retirement increase the odds of having enough income in their golden years. ‘One of the factors that makes a major difference in the percentage of households satisfying the retirement income adequacy thresholds at any retirement age is whether the worker is still participating in a defined contribution plan after age 65,’ the co-authors of the report. ‘This factor results in at least a 10 percentage point difference in the majority of the retirement age/income combinations investigated.’

The fact is that America’s budgetary needs are changing according to a changing culture and a longer life span. As Americans live and work longer, the government must  reform the entitlement system in tandem to ensure its viability for those who need it later. These programs can become more sustainable, but their open-ended benefits must be reined in now in order to make that happen.