These Are The 10 Poorest Cities In Iowa For 2019

We used science and data to determine which places in Iowa are basically dead broke.

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Editor’s Note: This article is an opinion based on facts and is meant as infotainment. Don’t freak out we updated this article for 2019. This is our fourth time ranking the poorest places in Iowa.

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Iowa brings to mind images of Des Moines, beautiful landscapes, and some of the best people you’ll find in the good ole US of A.

However, like all states, Iowa has certain places that are going on hard times. These places have an above average percent of people that are living in poverty, out of work, or not making as much as they should be.

With all the talk about income inequality going on around the country, we thought it prudent to take a look at the places in each state that are struggling to make it even as the economy continues to improve. So we set our sites on bringing attention to the places in Iowa that could use a helping hand.

To do so, we analyzed the newest Census data from the American Community Survey for the 79 places in Iowa with more than 5,000 people.

We were left with this set of the ten poorest places in the Hawkeye State for 2019:

  1. Red Oak (Photos)
  2. Keokuk (Photos)
  3. Fairfield (Photos)
  4. Centerville (Photos)
  5. Ottumwa (Photos)
  6. Fort Dodge (Photos)
  7. Oskaloosa (Photos)
  8. Anamosa (Photos)
  9. Ames (Photos)
  10. Burlington (Photos)

Again, this isn’t a commentary on the people that live there or the vibrant culture and traditions of these places. Instead, it’s just a look at the facts.

And according to the facts, Red Oak is the poorest place in Iowa for 2019.

Rich people not your cup of tea? Feel free to check out the richest places in Iowa or the most dangerous.

For more on how we calculated the top ten, and for more information about these places, read on.

If you’re looking for something more national, check out the poorest states in America or the poorest cities in America.

For more Iowa reading, check out:

How We Determined The Poorest Places In Iowa for 2019

The first thing that comes to most people’s minds when they think about determining the poorest places is to simply the poverty rate. That is, the number of people living below a federally established level of income for a household of a certain size.

However, we don’t think that one statistic wholly encompasses what it means to be one of the “poorest places”. So we looked at this set of criteria from the newly released 2013-2017 American Community Survey:

  • Poverty Level
  • Median Household Income adjusted for the cost of living
  • Unemployment Rate

The “median household income adjusted for the cost of living” attempts to gauge how expensive it is to live in a place and how that impacts the quality of life. For example, a town might have fewer people living below the official poverty line, but the cost of living is so high they’d still feel poor.

The unemployment rate tries to capture the prospects for improvement in the city or town. If more people are employed, the brighter the future looks and vice versa.

After we collected the data for all 79 places with more than 5,000 people in Iowa, we ranked each place from 1 to 79 for each of the criteria, with 1 being the poorest.

We then averaged all the rankings for a place into a “Poor Score” with the place having the lowest overall Poor Score, Red Oak, crowned the “Poorest Place In Iowa For 2019”.

You can learn more about the top ten below or skip to the end to see the rankings for all 79 places.

Red Oak, IA

Source: Public domain
Overall SnackAbility


Population: 5,475
Rank Last Year: 2 (Up 1)
Median Income: $34,966 (2nd lowest)
Unemployment Rate: 8.7% (2nd highest)
Poverty Rate: 23.3% (5th highest)
More on Red Oak:  Data | Photos

Red Oak, unfortunately, ranks as the poorest place in Iowa thanks to combination of low pay and and a lack of jobs.

The city of 5,475 people averages the 2nd lowest median household income in Iowa and the 5th highest poverty rate. At the very least, the cost of living ranks in the bottom 15% of place in the state, so things like housing are relatively affordable.

Keokuk, IA

Overall SnackAbility


Population: 10,484
Rank Last Year: 1 (No Change)
Median Income: $38,750 (5th lowest)
Unemployment Rate: 10.3% (1st highest)
Poverty Rate: 25.4% (3rd highest)
More on Keokuk:  Data | Photos

The second poorest city in Iowa is Keokuk.

The city ranks as having the 3rd highest incidence of poverty and 5th lowest median household income. However, the unemployment rate ‘only’ ranks as the 1st highest in the Hawkeye State.

Fairfield, IA

Overall SnackAbility


Population: 10,125
Rank Last Year: 5 (Up 2)
Median Income: $36,781 (3rd lowest)
Unemployment Rate: 8.3% (5th highest)
Poverty Rate: 19.4% (10th highest)
More on Fairfield:  Data | Photos

Placing as the third poorest city, Fairfield’s median income ranks as the 3rd lowest.

And that’s a sign that there’s a relatively substantial jump in the quality of the economy from second to third place on our list. The poverty rate is 19.4% and ranks near the bottom of places in the state.

But what makes up for the relatively low incomes of the city is its low cost of living. The income you do make here goes further than in most parts of the Hawkeye State.

Centerville, IA

Overall SnackAbility


Population: 5,503
Rank Last Year: 3 (Down 1)
Median Income: $30,993 (1st lowest)
Unemployment Rate: 6.0% (18th highest)
Poverty Rate: 21.2% (7th highest)
More on Centerville:  Data | Photos

Centerville ranks as the fourth poorest place in Iowa.

The town ranks as having the 1st lowest median household income and the 7th highest incidence of poverty in the state.

That being said, there’s still a ton of cultural diversity in the city as it hosts many events throughout the year.

Ottumwa, IA

Overall SnackAbility


Population: 24,705
Rank Last Year: 7 (Up 2)
Median Income: $39,193 (6th lowest)
Unemployment Rate: 6.3% (15th highest)
Poverty Rate: 19.5% (9th highest)
More on Ottumwa:  Data | Photos

The fifth poorest city in Iowa is Ottumwa.

The city ranks as having the 6th lowest median income in the state. However, an extremely low cost of living prevents a good number of folks from living in poverty as the poverty rate only ranks as the 9th highest in Iowa.

Still not the best news for Ottumwa.

Fort Dodge, IA

Overall SnackAbility


Population: 24,566
Rank Last Year: 8 (Up 2)
Median Income: $38,386 (4th lowest)
Unemployment Rate: 6.4% (13th highest)
Poverty Rate: 19.0% (14th highest)
More on Fort Dodge:  Data | Photos

Fort Dodge ranks as the sixth poorest place in the Hawkeye State.

It ranks as having the 13th highest incidence of poverty and the 13th highest unemployment rate.

Oskaloosa, IA

Source: Public domain
Overall SnackAbility


Population: 11,531
Rank Last Year: 10 (Up 3)
Median Income: $41,392 (9th lowest)
Unemployment Rate: 6.3% (15th highest)
Poverty Rate: 20.1% (8th highest)
More on Oskaloosa:  Data | Photos

Oskaloosa places as the seventh poorest city in Iowa.

The city of over 11,531 ranks as having the 8th highest incidence of poverty in the state. However, it has a very low cost of living which helps to pay the bills each month.

Anamosa, IA

Overall SnackAbility


Population: 5,420
Rank Last Year: 3 (Down 5)
Median Income: $41,484 (10th lowest)
Unemployment Rate: 8.5% (4th highest)
Poverty Rate: 17.4% (20th highest)
More on Anamosa:  Data | Photos

Anamosa ranks as the eighth poorest city in Iowa.

The big issue for the town is the unemployment rate which ranks as the 4th highest in the state.

Ames, IA

Source: Public domain
Overall SnackAbility


Population: 65,005
Rank Last Year: 10 (Up 1)
Median Income: $42,755 (16th lowest)
Unemployment Rate: 5.3% (20th highest)
Poverty Rate: 29.3% (1st highest)
More on Ames:  Data | Photos

Ames couldn’t stay out of the top ten poorest places in Iowa; it ranks number 9.

While the median income is the 16th lowest, there are a substantial number of people that live below the poverty line. Overall, Ames ranks as having the 1st most people living in poverty of all the places we analyzed in Iowa.

Burlington, IA

Overall SnackAbility


Population: 25,330
Rank Last Year: 9 (Down 1)
Median Income: $42,907 (17th lowest)
Unemployment Rate: 6.2% (17th highest)
Poverty Rate: 19.2% (12th highest)
More on Burlington:  Data | Photos

And rounding out the top ten poorest cities in Iowa is Burlington.

The city of 25,330 people ranks in the bottom 20% for both median income and poverty rate in the Hawkeye State.

There You Have It – The Poorest Places In Iowa For 2019

Like we said earlier, when we set out to identify the poorest places in Iowa, we weren’t sure what we’d encounter, but it ended up being some of the best places to live in Iowa.

When you look at the data, the cities and places mentioned above meet the criteria for being at the very bottom of the income ladder for everyone that lives there.

If you’re curious enough, here are the richest cities in Iowa, according to data:

    Richest: Waukee
    2nd Richest: Asbury
    3rd Richest: Bondurant

For more Iowa reading, check out:

Detailed List Of The Poorest Places To Live In Iowa

Rank City Population Poverty Rate
1 Red Oak 5,475 23.3%
2 Keokuk 10,484 25.4%
3 Fairfield 10,125 19.4%
4 Centerville 5,503 21.2%
5 Ottumwa 24,705 19.5%
6 Fort Dodge 24,566 19.0%
7 Oskaloosa 11,531 20.1%
8 Anamosa 5,420 17.4%
9 Ames 65,005 29.3%
10 Burlington 25,330 19.2%
11 Fort Madison 10,634 15.6%
12 Waterloo 68,146 17.0%
13 Maquoketa 5,954 19.0%
14 Iowa City 73,415 28.0%
15 Storm Lake 10,738 17.9%
16 Denison 8,361 22.3%
17 Clinton 25,892 16.0%
18 Charles City 7,427 25.0%
19 Des Moines 214,778 18.1%
20 Knoxville 7,202 16.3%
21 Perry 7,747 14.5%
22 Cherokee 5,018 18.2%
23 Grinnell 9,028 13.0%
24 Creston 7,860 17.4%
25 Estherville 5,930 16.0%
26 Oelwein 6,093 14.7%
27 Sioux City 82,568 14.7%
28 Marshalltown 27,440 13.9%
29 Washington 7,358 13.8%
30 Newton 15,085 12.6%
31 Dubuque 58,410 16.3%
32 Winterset 5,157 10.2%
33 Atlantic 6,787 18.4%
34 Davenport 102,268 17.1%
35 Hiawatha 7,262 13.4%
36 Mason City 27,453 12.8%
37 Clarinda 5,377 13.3%
38 Council Bluffs 62,317 13.9%
39 Cedar Falls 41,167 19.4%
40 Spencer 11,132 12.9%
41 Mount Pleasant 8,467 17.1%
42 Muscatine 23,852 15.6%
43 Boone 12,538 11.8%
44 Indianola 15,489 10.2%
45 Webster City 7,830 12.3%
46 Carroll 9,937 10.2%
47 Coralville 20,250 14.7%
48 Cedar Rapids 130,330 11.4%
49 Vinton 5,141 12.5%
50 Eldridge 6,231 8.1%
51 Manchester 5,047 15.5%
52 Nevada 6,790 12.5%
53 Independence 6,013 8.2%
54 Waverly 10,052 7.2%
55 Glenwood 5,271 15.4%
56 Le Mars 9,861 10.2%
57 Sheldon 5,060 11.6%
58 Marion 38,014 7.2%
59 Iowa Falls 5,132 6.5%
60 Decorah 7,850 11.5%
61 Pella 10,243 7.2%
62 Orange City 6,123 7.5%
63 Clear Lake 7,612 10.0%
64 Altoona 17,354 6.1%
65 Norwalk 10,179 3.0%
66 Bettendorf 35,293 5.3%
67 West Des Moines 62,999 6.2%
68 Urbandale 42,222 5.7%
69 Ankeny 56,237 6.3%
70 Algona 5,488 5.7%
71 Johnston 20,172 4.3%
72 Pleasant Hill 9,608 4.9%
73 Sioux Center 7,450 7.0%
74 Clive 17,134 5.9%
75 Grimes 11,139 3.9%
76 North Liberty 17,721 4.6%
77 Bondurant 5,457 4.1%
78 Asbury 5,338 4.4%
79 Waukee 17,980 3.5%

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