Welfare hidden in unclaimed properties

Eva Vivalt

2 minute read

Dr Eva Vivalt from the ANU College of Business and Economics (CBE) has been awarded a grant from the Russell Sage Foundation (RSF) to explore the crisis of unclaimed properties in the US. The RSF offers highly competitive funding for research, particularly related to social mobility and inequality.

Billions of dollars are tied up in unclaimed properties by state governments in the US, which results in a loss of welfare for the owners who fail to recover the amount that is owed to them.

Eva’s work will examine the types of unclaimed property owed, the demographics of those who have not claimed them and what their reasons are.

“I propose to document these basic facts and test the effectiveness of providing information and assistance in recovering the unclaimed property,” says Eva, who works in the CBE Research School of Economics.

The study will also investigate the consequences of receiving a large, positive income shock on outcomes such as debt and credit.

“There are some estimates that the US government holds over US$58 billion in unclaimed properties, so it is possible that a relatively inexpensive intervention could result in large welfare gains,” Eva says.

Prior to this study, much of the research in this area has focused on why eligible people fail to take up social programs in the US, like food stamps and tax credits. There has been no exploration about the obstacles and challenges people face in recovering unclaimed property.

This study will be the first to focus explicitly on unclaimed property and is expected to improve the understanding of the barriers to recovering it and its impact on financial health.

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