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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 Clinton.
Read on below to see how we crunched the numbers and see how your city fared in 2020.
For more Iowa reading, check out:
The 10 Worst Places To Live In Iowa For 2020
Clinton, Iowa is one of the least densely populated places in the state, believe it or not. Which means it can be hard to get a sense of community. Plus, Clinton has the 3rd highest crime rate in the state.
Which also makes it hard to get a sense of community.
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 4.8% unemployment rate and a $33,682 median income.
Statistically, Ottumwa has a better crime rate, but it isn't rosy there, either. Residents had a 1 in 19.1 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 10th highest in Iowa.
Ottumwa is located along the Des Moines River on Route 63 in the southern part of the state.
Perhaps kids these days just don't want to work hard. Seems like that's the case in Fort Madison, a mid-sized city along the Mississippi River. The unemployment rate is highest in the state here, at 8.8%.
However, according to the governor's office, Iowa is adding jobs at a steady clip. The problem is finding people to fill those jobs. Which means there are some lazy people in Fort Madison.
It's not even close. Keokuk is the worst place in the state of Iowa that you can live in, according to science. Let's see why.
Keokuk's residents are unemployed at a 10.7% clip, which is the 2nd highest in the state. Homes are the 2nd cheapest in Iowa here, and at $70,400, that shows there's not a lot of demand to live here.
Plus, crime is the highest in the state of Iowa in Keokuk. In Keokuk, there were 90 violent crimes in 2020. That means people who live here have a 1 in 115 chance of being raped, attacked or murdered. For Iowa, that's off the charts high.
Keokuk is right along the Mississippi River in the southeastern part of the state.
When you're looking at science and data, the city of Red Oak is the 6th worst place you can live in the state of Iowa. Let's see why.
Residents who live in Red Oak, located in Montgomery County, have the 11th most crimes in the state committed against them. Factor in a much-lower income level--per resident--and homes valued around $80,800, and you've got yourself a crummy place to live. In terms of comparing it to the rest of Iowa, that is.
If you're looking to live in Iowa, Des Moines might not be the best choice as it places 7th in our ranking of the worst places to live in the Hawkeye State for 2020.
The average family earns $52,251 a year out here, and 17.2% of the population is below the poverty line. Nearly 6.0% of the population is out of work.
And when you consider the crime, it's just crazy to think of how dangerous it is to live way out here. When you're in Des Moines, every year, you have a 1 in 22.5 chance of being robbed. Can you imagine? Perhaps it's an economic factor, or the fact that the people out there are so isolated, but the fact remains, it's the 8th most dangerous place in the state, per capita.
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 2019, and residents have a 1 in 35.4 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.
When you're looking at the worst places you could live in Iowa, Perry came in 9th. Let's see why.
When you're comparing the unemployment rate to the rest of the nation, Iowa residents are very hard workers. But when comparing the unemployment rate among cities in Iowa, you can see some really big differences. In Perry, the number of people out of work is 5.0%
In Iowa, that's the 22nd highest in the state.
The residents in Perry have the 14th lowest incomes in the state. Folks in Perry average $43,637 a year. Which isn't too shabby in comparison to the other 'lowest' income cities in most other states.
Additionally, the homes are valued at $87,700 on average. That's the 9th lowest in the state.
While numbers in Iowa are clearly better when you compare them to the rest of the nation, the fact is when you compare Iowa cities against one another, you see big differences.
Home values in Davenport average $127,100, which is the 35th lowest in the state. Say what you want about 'cheap living,' the fact is homes are priced by demand, and there's not a lot of demand to live in Davenport.
Plus, 16.6% of the population here lives below the poverty line.
Plus, the crime rate is the 4th highest in the state here. Every year, when you're within Davenport city limits, you have a 1 in 19.5 chance of being robbed. That's a lot of broken into cars and homes.
How we determined the worst places to live in Iowa for 2020
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
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 -- Clinton. 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, Clinton ranks as the worst city to live in Iowa for 2020.
If you're curious enough, here are the best cities to live in Iowa:
- Carroll (Pop. 9,899)
- Clive (Pop. 17,195)
- Decorah (Pop. 7,765)
For more Iowa reading, check out:
- Best Places To Retire In Iowa
- Richest Cities In Iowa
- Safest Places In Iowa
- Best Cities For Singles In Iowa
Where Are The Worst Places To Live In Iowa?