These Are The 10 Most Ghetto Cities In Iowa For 2018

We used science and data to determine which cities in IA are really ghetto.

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There are lots of people who throw the term ‘ghetto’ around. But which of Iowa’s largest cities are the most ghetto of all?

How do you decide if a place is ghetto or not? You ask the internet. According to the Urban Dictionary, a ghetto is defined as:

“urban; of or relating to (inner) city life” and “poor; of or relating to the poor life.”

Using that criteria, it’s not hard to scrape the internet, run some scientific data on where ghettos might exist in a state and then put out a list.

After analyzing the largest cities in the Hawkeye State, we came up with this list as the most ghetto places in Iowa:

  1. Storm Lake
  2. Waterloo (Photos)
  3. Maquoketa (Photos)
  4. Keokuk (Photos)
  5. Fort Dodge (Photos)
  6. Ottumwa (Photos)
  7. Des Moines (Photos)
  8. Burlington (Photos)
  9. Fort Madison (Photos)
  10. Clarinda (Photos)

In case you’re wondering, Urbandale is the least ghetto city of all we measured.

Read on below to see where your hometown ranked and why.

For more Iowa reading, check out:


What ghetto criteria did we use?

In order to rank the most ghetto places in Iowa, we had to determine what criteria defines a ghetto city or neighborhood.

Since a ghetto is defined as a poor area, we used income levels, crime and education levels as a guide to determine where the most broke citizens of a state live.

Additionally, the staples of inner city life include cheap and discounted retail outlets.

We started by making a list of the largest cities in Iowa based on the 2013 American Community Survey. That left us with 80 places in the Hawkeye State.

We threw a lot of criteria at this one in order to get the best, most complete results possible. Using Yelp and Area Vibes, this is the criteria we used:

  • Household income levels
  • High school graduation rates
  • Number of convenience stores
  • Number of drug stores
  • Number of discount stores
  • Crime
  • Twitter mentions of #ghetto

Note: For the sake of getting reliable numbers, we counted places within a city’s border, as well as within a short driving distance.

All of these results are listed in a per capita basis. Meaning number of stores per person in a state. Additionally, high school graduation rates are determined by looking at the total number of people who live in a city, not the current graduation rate of an area’s high schools.

For geo-located Tweets, we measured all mentions coming from a city with #ghetto


1. Storm Lake

Source: Public Domain

Income: $45,208
Drop out rate: 38%
Discount stores: 4th

We should put things into perspective first. Sure, we’re aware that most of the cities on this list would not be considered ghetto in other states. But, if we’re measuring the numbers in each state, someone has to ‘win’, right?

Storm Lake is off the charts when it comes to dropouts. Nearly 4 in 10 residents here is uneducated, which is impacting the economy as a whole. Believe it or not, Denison Iowa (40%) actually has a higher dropout rate than Storm Lake does.

Storm Lake suffers from far higher than average crime as well, and it has one of the highest concentrations of discount stores in Iowa. Sociologists indicate that discount outlets indicate a ghetto-type lifestyle.

2. Waterloo

Source: wikipedia

Income: $41,275
Drop out rate: 20%
Crime: 7th highest

Waterloo is one of the poorer areas in Iowa, where crime is one of the highest in the Hawkeye State. No wonder the population here is shrinking; 1 in 5 kids below the age of 18 lives below the poverty line.

The fact that serial killer John Wayne Gacy lived here at one point in his life puts an even deeper stain on Waterloo.

3. Maquoketa

Source: wikipedia

Income: $30,745
Drop out rate: 19%
Crime: 14th worst in Iowa

You won’t find a poorer place in the state of Iowa than Maquoketa, a small place halfway between Dubuque and Davenport. Families here average about $30K a year in combined incomes. The government says a family of 4 needs about $25,000 a year to live above the poverty line.

Having the state’s 7th highest unemployment rate (5.3%) certainly doesn’t help matters. Nor does a 1 in 5 dropout rate for current residents. Being so isolated is apparently having a toll on the economy here.

4. Keokuk

Source: wikipedia

Income: $35,230
Crime: 2nd highest
Dropout rate: 22%

Keokuk actually ranked pretty high in the number of ghetto Tweets for such a small place (10,000 residents).

Here are two examples:
“Keokuk is the ghetto of Southeast Iowa.”
“Keokuk is the most ghetto town in Southeast Iowa. #fact”

Crime and poverty are the main reasons Keokuk is a ghetto city. It’s actually the 2nd most dangerous place in the state, right after Council Bluffs. For every year you spend in Keokuk, you have a 1 in 20 chance of being the victim of a property crime.

And, 1 in 100 people was the victim of a violent attack in 2013. That’s insane for Iowa.

5. Fort Dodge

Source: wikipedia

Income: $38,292
Drop out rate: 20%
Crime: 10th worst

Fort Dodge is a very blue collar city in North Central Iowa where you have a 1 in 24 chance of being the victim of a property crime every year you spend within city limits, and where people are relatively broke in comparison to most other Iowa communities.

Like many of the cities above, 1 in 5 residents is walking around without a high school degree.

Lots of people agreed on Twitter, pushing Fort Dodge even higher up the list.

Example: ‘ ‘The Flats’ in Fort Dodge, Iowa has got to be the most ghetto place I’ve ever been to”

6. Ottumwa

Source: wikipedia

Income: $37,494
Drop out rate: 24%
Convenience stores: 3rd most

When you can purchase a home for about $70,000, that’s a sign that your city is either in the sticks, or pretty ghetto. Well, Ottumwa is a little bit of both.

Nearly 1 in 4 residents is a high school dropout, and the number of property crimes is just about as high as you’ll see in Iowa. Perhaps that’s partially due to the low incomes and high unemployment rate.

Additionally, Ottumwa has just about the most convenience stores per person in Iowa. Sociologists have indicated discount shopping locations are a staple of inner city life.

7. Des Moines

Source: wikipedia

Income: $44,862
Drop out rate: 19%
Crime: 4th highest

This may or may not come as a surprise to many, but when you look at the data, the largest city in Iowa is also one of its most ghetto cities.

Crime is the 4th highest in Iowa. There were 11 murders here in 2013, which is one of the highest counts in the state, by far. Like almost all large cities, there are nice parts of Des Moines, and there are the ghetto parts. The ghetto areas of Des Moines are the size of small cities in other parts of the state.

Twitter had lots to say on the matter:

“Des Moines is turning ghetto out of no where. wtf man”
“At this point every single time I drive to Des Moines is a ‘lost in the ghetto’ moment :/”
“Des Moines is actually super ghetto minus downtown. Sketch.”

8. Burlington

Source: wikipedia

Income: $39,522
Drop out rate: 16%
Crime: 6th highest

Burlington’s dropout rate isn’t nearly as high as other cities on this list (especially Storm Lake, below). However, the crime here is 6th highest in Iowa, and income levels are in the bottom 15% as well.

About 30% of people under the age of 18 and over the age of 65 live in poverty. For Iowa, that’s really high.

Over the last several years, several large businesses have relocated from Burlington, including battery maker Exide, CAT and Lehigh-Leopold. This has meant job losses and abandoned manufacturing plants in the area. At one point, Burlington’s unemployment rate was twice the state average.

9. Fort Madison

Source: wikipedia

Income: $39,621
Drop out rate: 18%
Crime: 11th highest

Along the Mississippi in the southeastern part of the state is Fort Madison, where income levels, dropout rates and crime are all in the ‘bad’ 10% of Iowa.

It’s pretty clear at this point that this part of Iowa is the most ghetto part of the state.

10. Clarinda

Source: wikipedia

Income: $40,236
Drop out rate: 23%
Convenience stores: 10th highest

Clarinda is a ghetto little town in the southwestern part of the state.

The population in this isolated town has dropped over the last 12 years, and doesn’t show any sign of improving. When you look at the numbers, you can tell why.

There were lots of geo-located Tweets coming from this location as well, which is surprising for such a small place.

Example: “It’s weird to think about how ghetto Clarinda is sometimes, like you wouldn’t think their would be drug abuse in a small midwest town

There You Have It

If you’re measuring the locations in Iowa where there are a high number of poor and uneducated residents, and where there are a high number of discounted shopping stores, this is an accurate list.

Additionally, here are the least ghetto places in Iowa: Norwalk, Grimes, Eldridge, Waukee, Waverly.

We also wrote about the 10 Most Redneck Cities In Iowa if you didn’t happen to see it.

Desktop users, below is a ghetto ranking chart of all large cities in Iowa, along with their crime numbers:

City Crime Rank
storm lake 106.1 1
waterloo 120.1 2
maquoketa 111.4 3
keokuk 146.1 4
fort dodge 114.6 5
ottumwa 110.2 6
des moines 123.5 7
burlington 120.5 8
fort madison 114.1 9
clarinda 103.4 10
sioux city 106.9 11
perry 80.2 12
marshalltown 112.8 13
webster city 108.3 14
red oak 91.5 14
council bluffs 151.7 16
clinton 121.4 17
centerville 110.5 18
mount pleasant 104.9 19
davenport 135.1 20
oskaloosa 90.5 21
oelwein 102.3 22
cherokee 115.6 23
muscatine 100.3 24
dubuque 112.1 24
denison 52 26
creston 90.3 26
washington 86.7 26
mason city 96 26
anamosa 70.1 30
estherville 71.8 31
ames 95.9 32
fairfield 86.3 33
cedar rapids 105 34
iowa city 88.1 35
charles city 68.9 36
newton 85.2 37
knoxville 88.6 38
atlantic 75 39
grinnell 80.5 40
shenandoah 50.9 41
glenwood 88.9 42
winterset 87.6 43
boone 92.3 43
coralville 78.7 43
le mars 88.7 46
harlan 63.7 46
west des moines 90.2 48
spencer 76.6 48
manchester 85.1 50
nevada 116.6 51
iowa falls 60.8 52
hiawatha 58.5 53
sioux center 41.1 53
carroll 53.1 55
cedar falls 74.5 56
sheldon 57.9 57
clear lake 70 58
vinton 68.7 59
decorah 42 60
pleasant hill 70.7 61
clive 77.8 62
marion 70.6 63
pella 74.9 64
orange city 55.3 64
north liberty 55.1 66
indianola 77.9 67
altoona 83.6 68
algona 58.8 69
urbandale 71.1 70
bettendorf 54.7 70
johnston 56.1 72
ankeny 61.8 73
independence 52 74
de witt 68.5 75
waverly 54.9 76
waukee 60.9 77
eldridge 50.1 78
grimes 48.8 78
norwalk 49.6 80

About Nick Johnson

Nick Johnson earned his masters in Business Administration from the Drucker School At Claremont Graduate University. He has written for 39 publications across the country and ran the media relations department at Movoto, a real estate portal based in San Francisco. He has been featured in over 500 publications as an expert in real estate and as an authority on real estate trends.

Nick's the creator of the HomeSnacks YouTube channel that now has over 260,000 subscribers and is an excellent source to learn about different parts of the country.