The 10 Worst Places To Live In Iowa For 2021

We used science and data to determine which cities in the Hawkeye State are the real pits.

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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 2021. This is our seventh time ranking the worst places to live in Iowa.

Iowa has recently been called the best state in America. And who can argue against it? With a stable economy, relatively low crime and great public schools, Iowa is the cream of the crop when it comes to what's great about America.

In fact, in a study that we did on the worst states in America, Iowa came in right behind Nebraska for dead last. Meaning Iowa is second best.

But is it all great in The Hawkeye State? Of course not. Just like every other state, Iowa has its trouble spots. The purpose of this post is to use science and data to determine which cities in the in Iowa are the least desirable to live in.

What's interesting about this post is that most of the `worst places' in Iowa would most likely be some of the better places in some of the crummier states we've analyzed in the past (Mississippi, Alabama, Florida). But nonetheless, according to science, these Iowa cities are the worst places you could possibly live if you make Iowa your home.

The places which could use a big hug right about now.

After analyzing 74 of the state's most populous cities (over 5,000 people), we came up with this list as the 10 worst places to live in Iowa:

What? Where are these places you wonder? And before you get all riled up and say we're picking on small town America, that's not the case.

We understand there's a lot of good in every place.

However, according to data (which doesn't measure things like beauty and 'friendly people'), there are far better options in the state for making a place home. And the worst place to live in Iowa? That would be Centerville.

Read on below to see how we crunched the numbers and see how your city fared in 2021.

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

For more Iowa reading, check out:

The 10 Worst Places To Live In Iowa For 2021

Centerville, IA

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Population: 5,458
Rank Last Year: 2 (Up 1)
Median Home Value: $68,400 (worst)
Unemployment Rate: 7.1% (7th worst)
More on Centerville:  Data | Photos

Let's be honest here. Outside of a few metro areas, entertainment in Iowa is...lacking. But the people who live in Iowa seem to be okay with that. There are certain areas of the state that are a lot more boring than others. Centerville is one of those places.

Located in the southern part of the state, residents in this tiny town have a Walmart, but that's just about it. For entertainment, they'd have to drive to nearby Ottumwa. Where it isn't safe.

Besides the whole 'boring' factor, whatever economy Centerville has isn't very robust with a 7.1% unemployment rate and a $34,805 median income.

Ottumwa, IA

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Population: 24,545
Rank Last Year: 3 (Up 1)
Median Home Value: $74,100 (3rd worst)
Unemployment Rate: 6.0% (12th worst)
More on Ottumwa:  Data | Photos

Statistically, Ottumwa has a better crime rate, but it isn't rosy there, either. Residents had a 1 in 24.3 chance of being the victim of a property crime. Which means lots of stolen laptops, cell phones and tractor tires. The odds are either you or someone you knew was robbed two years ago.

For Iowa, that's not acceptable.

Other factors that make Ottumwa one of the worst places to live in the state are the poor state of affairs in its public schools and economic situation. Homes are some of the cheapest, and the unemployment rate is 12th highest in Iowa.

Ottumwa is located along the Des Moines River on Route 63 in the southern part of the state.

Osceola, IA

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Population: 5,103
Rank Last Year: 18 (Up 15)
Median Home Value: $95,700 (18th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 2.6% (50th worst)
More on Osceola:  Data | Photos

Osceola is located in the central part of Iowa, about 45 minutes south of Des Moines. Despite a robust local economy, crime and a weak school system make the community one of the worst places in Iowa to put down roots.

Osceola has a modest crime problem. The crime rate runs about 15% above the national average. Schools in the region also face their challenges, with a top score on Great Schools of just 6/10.

Still, there are benefits to life in Osceola. This home to the Lakeside Hotel & Casino offers some job opportunities. The unemployment rate sits at 2.6% and the median income hovers at $49,443.

Waterloo, IA

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Population: 67,912
Rank Last Year: 7 (Up 3)
Median Home Value: $117,400 (30th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 5.7% (16th worst)
More on Waterloo:  Data | Photos

Waterloo is by far, the largest place that's lousy to live in the state of Iowa. In fact, it's one of the largest cities in the Hawkeye State.

There's a lot more entertainment in Waterloo than in the cities we mentioned above, so at least folks here can take their mind off of these statistics. Waterloo has the 16th highest unemployment rate in the state, and homes are valued far below the rest of the state average.

Plus, crime is sky high here, in comparison to the rest of Iowa. There were four murders here in 2020, and residents have a 1 in 40.4 chance of being robbed. Since the average person has 300 Facebook friends, if everyone you were friends with lived in Waterloo, 6 of them would have had something stolen from them last year.

Council Bluffs, IA

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Population: 62,355
Rank Last Year: 11 (Up 6)
Median Home Value: $120,100 (3worst)
Unemployment Rate: 4.3% (30th worst)
More on Council Bluffs:  Data | Photos

Council Bluffs is built along the Missouri River in the far western part of the state. It sits across the water from Omaha, Nebraska. At 62,355 people, it ranks among the biggest cities in Iowa.

Unlike most of the cities on this list, Council Bluffs doesn't suffer from major economic woes. In fact, with an unemployment rate of 4.3% and a median income of $53,524, the city has a strong commercial backbone.

However, issues with housing and education undercut this strength. At the same time, crime represents the core concern in Council Bluffs. The crime rate tracks at more than 160% above the national average.

Fort Madison, IA

Source: Public domain
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Population: 10,513
Rank Last Year: 4 (Down 2)
Median Home Value: $81,600 (4th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 8.9% (3rd worst)
More on Fort Madison:  Data | Photos

For a town of just 10,513 residents, Fort Madison has a lot of problems. The economy wheezes along with an unemployment rate of 8.9%. The area's housing and schools are substandard. Even the crime rate tops the national average.

Given these challenges, it's no surprise Fort Madison wound up on this list. Still, there are benefits to living in this town, located in the far southeastern part of the state.

With a median home value of $81,600, it's easy to find affordable housing. Meanwhile, built along the Mississippi River, the area comes with dramatic views and a sense of its pioneer past. Take a trip to Old Fort Madison for a taste of these early days.

Clinton, IA

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Population: 25,416
Rank Last Year: 1 (Down 6)
Median Home Value: $99,500 (20th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 5.7% (15th worst)
More on Clinton:  Data | Photos

Clinton sits in the east-central part of the state, across the Mississippi River from Illinois. In the second half of the 19th century, the railroad brought prosperity to the town. The 21st century has told a different story.

The unemployment rate stands at a reasonably healthy 5.7%, but few of the local gigs pay well. The median income sits at just $44,094 and the poverty rate comes in at 17.3%.

This unimpressive economy leads to issues with housing and education. At the same time, the local crime rate tracks at nearly 60% higher than the U.S. standard.

Des Moines, IA

Source: Public domain
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Population: 215,636
Rank Last Year: 8 (No Change)
Median Home Value: $133,200 (38th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 5.8% (13th worst)
More on Des Moines:  Data | Photos

Des Moines holds a lot of distinctions in the state of Iowa. It's the state capital. It also serves as the state's largest metropolitan area. Unfortunately, bigger doesn't always mean better. In this case, Iowa's major urban area counts as the number 8 worst place to live in the state.

Safety represents the main concern. The local crime rate almost doubles the national average. There is also a lack of good-paying jobs, with 16.1% of the population making due below the poverty line.

There are benefits to living in the city. Life in Des Moines comes with plenty of amenities and a significant number of parks. You'll also find attractions like the Science Center of Iowa.

Marshalltown, IA

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Population: 27,053
Rank Last Year: 12 (Up 3)
Median Home Value: $94,300 (16th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 5.4% (19th worst)
More on Marshalltown:  Data | Photos

Marshalltown's original founder once called the area "the prettiest place in Iowa." That might have been true in the 1850s. Nowadays, this town, located in the central part of the state, gets a different distinction: the number 9 worst spot in the state.

Marshalltown supports an uninspiring economy. The unemployment rate hovers at 5.4%, while the poverty rate comes in at 14.8%. Housing and safety are issues in the region. With a few exceptions, the local public schools also come up short.

Marshalltown has its claims to fame. Early baseball legend Cap Anson was born in the area. Also, the town boasts a house designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the Robert H. Sunday House.

Fort Dodge, IA

Overall SnackAbility


Population: 24,278
Rank Last Year: 17 (Up 7)
Median Home Value: $93,600 (14th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 4.9% (23rd worst)
More on Fort Dodge:  Data | Photos

Fort Dodge sits in north-central Iowa. At 24,278 people, the community ranks as a small town in most other parts of the country. But in a largely rural part of Iowa, it counts as a major commercial and cultural center, complete with an art museum, the Blanden Memorial Art Museum.

Good-paying jobs are rare in the area. The unemployment rate comes in at a relatively low 4.9%. However, the median income stands around $40,000 and the poverty rate equals 16.0%. Meanwhile, crime and education present serious problems as well. The local schools rank only a 3/10 on Great Schools.

How we determined the worst places to live in Iowa for 2021

To figure out how bad a place is to live in, we only needed to know what kinds of things people like and then decide what cities have the least amount of those things.

We don't think it's a stretch to assume that people like the following things:

  • Good education
  • Lots of jobs
  • Low crime
  • Low poverty
  • Nice homes
  • High incomes
  • High population density (Lots of things to do)
  • Short work commutes
  • Health insurance

The data comes from the Census's most recent American Community Survey and from the FBI Uniform Crime Report.

We broke crime down into violent crime and property crime to give violent crime a larger weight -- if you did a simple calculation of all crimes per capita, property crimes are normally 7x more common and really bias that ranking.

Furthermore, only cities with at least 5,000 people were considered -- leaving 74 cities.

We then ranked each city from 1 to 74 for all the criteria with a #1 ranking being the worst for the particular criteria.

Next, we averaged the rankings into one "Worst Place To Live Score".

Finally, we ranked every city on the "Worst Place To Live Score" with the lowest score being the worst city in Iowa -- Centerville. Read on for a detailed look at the 10 worst cities in Iowa. You can download the data here.

This list is a scientific analysis based on real data and is completely unbiased.

Wrapping Up The Worst In Iowa

If you're looking at areas in Iowa with the worst economic situations, where there's higher than average crime, and not a lot to do, this is an accurate list.

And in the end, Centerville ranks as the worst city to live in Iowa for 2021.

If you're curious enough, here are the best cities to live in Iowa:

  1. Pella (Pop. 10,231)
  2. Clive (Pop. 17,167)
  3. Decorah (Pop. 7,701)

For more Iowa reading, check out:

Where Are The Worst Places To Live In Iowa?

Rank City Population Unemployment Rate Home Value
1 Centerville 5,458 7.1% $68,400
2 Ottumwa 24,545 6.0% $74,100
3 Osceola 5,103 2.6% $95,700
4 Waterloo 67,912 5.7% $117,400
5 Council Bluffs 62,355 4.3% $120,100
6 Fort Madison 10,513 8.9% $81,600
7 Clinton 25,416 5.7% $99,500
8 Des Moines 215,636 5.8% $133,200
9 Marshalltown 27,053 5.4% $94,300
10 Fort Dodge 24,278 4.9% $93,600

How Is The Area In ?

21 thoughts on “The 10 Worst Places To Live In Iowa For 2021

  1. Your population data for many cities is way, way off. Boone, Ames, Ankeny, Cedar Falls… those aren’t even close.

  2. I’ve read a lot of data and this list isn’t correct. Council Bluff and Marshalltown have higher crime rates than any of these. Centerville and Appanoose county in general along with Ottumwa are high in Meth making and there is much more to be said about Centerville than just the fact that it’s boring. But nice try.

    1. I agree and Ankeny rates on of the fastest growing great schools all new, to live in,but highest taxes.

  3. I have lived in Clinton pretty much my whole life and I have no idea where that picture was even taken at… not what Clinton looks like.

    1. It is the pool hall across from Firestone. It looks like they took pictures of the worst looking building they could find in all these towns. Clinton is not the greatest place to live, but that picture does not represent the whole town.

  4. Considering many cities aren’t listed, I’m a little worried about how the data was truly gathered. Pop numbers are way off and I’m rather unsure where you got some of the information. Not that, to some degree, I don’t agree somewhat, you really can’t fairly compare a lot of the cities listed. Population density is going to play a factor into how many and how good the schools are as well as how well the town’s economy is doing, even so far as what there is to do. (Less people dictates less need to build things like theaters and entertainment venues).

    Disclosing which cities you picked and which you didn’t and on what basis would make this a little more ‘informational’ and far less ‘opinion’. Omitting cities with less than 1,000 residents definitely makes this piece biased.

  5. Yup. I’m from Mt. Pleasant, and I can only say I’m relieved we’re not THE boringest town around…but we’re still pretty damn boring!

  6. I can tell you from personal experience–not necessarily on the science–that Grinnell needs to be ranked subjectively much higher as a most boring Iowa town. What makes it especially boring is its distance from any major metropolitan area–a good hour to Iowa City and Des Moines. If you’re a Grinnellian, you’d better enjoy living in relative isolation in a town where the sidewalks roll up at 5, the craft beer selection never changes, no great movies come to town (safe and family-friendly is the only option), the students hide away in their rooms and never are out on the beautiful campus (the town’s one redeeming quality), train horns wake you at 2 in the morning, there’s no good coffee (insipid stuff at the overrated Saint’s Rest, where the senior citizens gather like geese every morning), and forget about gourmet restaurants. I endured two long years before we just about lost our minds and finally made it to Iowa City.

  7. Corrected list:
    1. Council Bluffs
    2. Council Bluffs
    3. Council Bluffs
    4. Does it matter?
    5. Council Bluffs

    List gets a bit redundant after the top 5. Council Bluffs, IA is one of the biggest excrement-holes of a city I have ever seen. From the crime and the meth (and other drugs) and abysmal civic design, lackluster schools, and even the pathetic revitalization attempts, it is hands-down the worst place in Iowa.

  8. Your comments on Port Madison are pretty lazy. Just because the governor’s office claims something doesn’t mean it is true. Also, some of those unemployed in Port Madison may lack the skills needed for these new jobs. It might be “infotainment” but you still shouldn’t perpetuate myths about unemployed people, most of whom are looking hard for jobs

  9. I visited Clinton Iowa last week for my first time.I don’t. know where they took these pictures.I plan to go back in the fall.I’m. from Las Vegas I thought Clinton was a great place.

  10. Urbandale?? Best?? Oh come on…half of it is a giant dung heap, and the other half no one can afford to live in. Plus their schools are garbage (I know, I used to work there). It’s only slightly better than living in Des Moines.

  11. The easiest way to answer all of the arguments about one city being better than another is to just tell the truth. The entire Midwest is a giant AIDS infested orifice.

  12. Life is what you make it I love I live in a little town of 700 and Iowa Moravia Iowa to be exact and it’s the greatest place in Iowa there’s good places to eat close by and shows to go to if you want so it’s just what you make it good or bad the good Lord lets me get up every morning on my own two feet and if I can’t find some place to go eat I can fix it myself! Anyway what would Jesus say come on guys quit your bitchin

  13. I grew up in Ft. Dodge Iowa. I have lived the last 20 some years in Corpus Christi Texas. Completely different than Ft. Dodge needless to say. But I have nothing but fond memories of growing up in Ft. Dodge way back in the mid seventies. It was a great place to run free as a teenager. I loved it there and those times.

  14. Ottumwa needs to be 1st on the list of worst places, if it isn’t already since this article came out. The meth is ridiculously easy to get, (just ask any gas station attendant and they’ll hook you up), the police force is corrupt and they sit outside of every bar in town at 2am just waiting to collect DUI’s (OWI’s in Iowa), the town is completely overrun with illegal Mexicans because we have slaughterhouse here (JBS), almost every neighborhood looks like a third world country, and the folks that live here that DO make any money don’t spend it here, they go to Des Moines or Iowa City.

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