These Are The 10 Worst Places To Live In Iowa For 2019


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 2019. This is our fifth time ranking the worst places to live in Iowa.

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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 73 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:

  1. Keokuk (Photos)
  2. Centerville (Photos)
  3. Clinton (Photos)
  4. Ottumwa (Photos)
  5. Waterloo (Photos)
  6. Fort Madison (Photos)
  7. Red Oak (Photos)
  8. Des Moines (Photos)
  9. Newton (Photos)
  10. Fort Dodge (Photos)

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 Keokuk.

Read on below to see how we crunched the numbers and see how your city fared in 2019.

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:

How we determined the worst places to live in Iowa for 2019

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 73 cities.

We then ranked each city from 1 to 73 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 — Keokuk. Read on for a detailed look at the 10 worst cities in Iowa.

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

Keokuk, IA

Overall SnackAbility

4
/10

Population: 10,484
Rank Last Year: 1 (No Change)
Median Home Value: $67,400 (1st worst)
Unemployment Rate: 10.3% (1st worst)
More on Keokuk:  Data | Photos

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 10.3% clip, which is the 1st highest in the state. Homes are the 1st cheapest in Iowa here, and at $67,400, that shows there’s not a lot of demand to live here.

Plus, crime is the 1st highest in the state of Iowa in Keokuk. In Keokuk, there were 90 violent crimes in 2017. That means people who live here have a 1 in 116 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.

Centerville, IA

Overall SnackAbility

5
/10

Population: 5,503
Rank Last Year: 2 (No Change)
Median Home Value: $68,800 (3rd worst)
Unemployment Rate: 6.0% (18th 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 6.0% unemployment rate and a $30,993 median income.

Clinton, IA

Overall SnackAbility

6
/10

Population: 25,892
Rank Last Year: 6 (Up 3)
Median Home Value: $93,500 (16th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 5.2% (22nd worst)
More on Clinton:  Data | Photos

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.

Ottumwa, IA

Overall SnackAbility

5
/10

Population: 24,705
Rank Last Year: 4 (No Change)
Median Home Value: $73,400 (5th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 6.3% (15th 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 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 15th highest in Iowa.

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

Waterloo, IA

Source: Public domain
Overall SnackAbility

5
/10

Population: 68,146
Rank Last Year: 5 (No Change)
Median Home Value: $110,700 (30th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 6.9% (8th 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 8th 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 2016, 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.

Fort Madison, IA

Source: Public domain
Overall SnackAbility

6
/10

Population: 10,634
Rank Last Year: 7 (Up 1)
Median Home Value: $80,400 (6th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 8.6% (3rd worst)
More on Fort Madison:  Data | Photos

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 8.6%.

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.

Red Oak, IA

Source: Public domain
Overall SnackAbility

5
/10

Population: 5,475
Rank Last Year: 3 (Down 4)
Median Home Value: $72,500 (4th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 8.7% (2nd worst)
More on Red Oak:  Data | Photos

If you live in Red Oak, you’re either going to fiercely protect your town, or you agree that it should be on this list. Either way, it doesn’t matter, because science says it’s the 7th worst place to live in the state.

You’ve got the 11th highest crime rate in Iowa, which saw 40 violent crimes last year. You have a 1 in 28.8 chance of being robbed and a 1 in 136 chance of being attacked, raped or killed here for every year you spend in the city limits of Red Oak.

Plus, folks are simply out of work. Red Oak sports the state’s 2nd highest unemployment rate (8.7%), and families bring in a combined $34,966 a year, which is far below the state average.

No wonder homes are cheap; you can get one yourself for only $72,500.

Des Moines, IA

Overall SnackAbility

6
/10

Population: 214,778
Rank Last Year: 8 (No Change)
Median Home Value: $123,300 (35th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 6.5% (12th worst)
More on Des Moines:  Data | Photos

Des Moines seems to be the have’s and have not’s. While the annual average income levels here are respectful ($49,999), about 1 in 15.4 people here are without jobs. Homes are valued at only $123,300.

But the biggest eye opener is the sheer crime here. It seems as if just about everyone in town without a job is pillaging the community. Des Moines has the 8th highest crime rate in Iowa, where 1 in 147 people has a statistic chance of being attacked, raped or murdered each year.

Plus, 1 in 22.4 people are robbed.

If you’re headed past Des Moines and stop for gas, make sure you lock your doors.

Newton, IA

Source: Public domain
Overall SnackAbility

5
/10

Population: 15,085
Rank Last Year: 20 (Up 11)
Median Home Value: $98,200 (22nd worst)
Unemployment Rate: 6.7% (10th worst)
More on Newton:  Data | Photos

Newton, IA needs a big hug right now. Residents here are underpaid, underemployed and possibly lonely.

Additionally, crime is 16th worst in the state, which is very high considering Newton is so far removed from the rest of Iowa.

If you know anyone in Newton, dm them on Facebook and tell them you love them. They can probably use it right about now.

Fort Dodge, IA

Overall SnackAbility

5
/10

Population: 24,566
Rank Last Year: 9 (Down 1)
Median Home Value: $90,500 (15th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 6.4% (13th worst)
More on Fort Dodge:  Data | Photos

When you’re looking at science and data, the city of Fort Dodge is the 10th worst place you can live in the state of Iowa. Let’s see why.

You may be surprised to hear that the crime here is the 9th-highest in the state per capita, according to the FBI data base.

Residents in Fort Dodge had a 1 in 22.9 chance of being robbed in 2016. To put things into perspective, since the average person has 300 friends on Facebook, if everyone you friended lived in Fort Dodge, statistically, 25 of them would have been the victim of a property crime, meaning a home robbery, car break in or a stolen wallet.

Fort Dodge’s other issues are a very high unemployment rate (6.4%) and income levels of its residents ($38,386).

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, Keokuk ranks as the worst city to live in Iowa for 2019.

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

  1. Decorah (Pop. 7,850)
  2. Waukee (Pop. 17,980)
  3. Clive (Pop. 17,134)

For more Iowa reading, check out:

Detailed List Of The Worst Places To Live In Iowa

Rank City Population Unemployment Rate Home Value
1 Keokuk 10,484 10.3% $67,400
2 Centerville 5,503 6.0% $68,800
3 Clinton 25,892 5.2% $93,500
4 Ottumwa 24,705 6.3% $73,400
5 Waterloo 68,146 6.9% $110,700
6 Fort Madison 10,634 8.6% $80,400
7 Red Oak 5,475 8.7% $72,500
8 Des Moines 214,778 6.5% $123,300
9 Newton 15,085 6.7% $98,200
10 Fort Dodge 24,566 6.4% $90,500
11 Perry 7,747 4.9% $89,200
12 Marshalltown 27,440 6.3% $95,400
13 Council Bluffs 62,317 5.2% $115,800
14 Burlington 25,330 6.2% $90,100
15 Davenport 102,268 4.2% $124,300
16 Maquoketa 5,954 6.6% $87,500
17 Anamosa 5,420 8.5% $93,900
18 Winterset 5,157 6.9% $140,000
19 Storm Lake 10,738 7.0% $118,100
20 Estherville 5,930 4.4% $83,400
21 Oelwein 6,093 3.8% $67,900
22 Grinnell 9,028 5.3% $133,800
23 Oskaloosa 11,531 6.3% $95,200
24 Washington 7,358 4.8% $110,000
25 Cherokee 5,018 4.1% $83,500
26 Muscatine 23,852 3.5% $108,800
27 Iowa Falls 5,132 2.7% $88,300
28 Bondurant 5,457 0.5% $180,600
29 Atlantic 6,787 1.2% $95,200
30 Denison 8,361 8.2% $100,200
31 Clarinda 5,377 3.5% $80,700
32 Indianola 15,489 4.4% $155,600
33 Vinton 5,141 2.2% $113,200
34 Fairfield 10,125 8.3% $104,100
35 Manchester 5,047 2.0% $107,900
36 Clear Lake 7,612 1.6% $146,500
37 Boone 12,538 4.3% $109,100
38 Glenwood 5,271 1.3% $137,200
39 Cedar Rapids 130,330 4.1% $138,500
40 Creston 7,860 3.4% $85,100
41 Dubuque 58,410 4.8% $135,800
42 Knoxville 7,202 4.5% $93,600
43 Independence 6,013 2.7% $120,100
44 Pleasant Hill 9,608 2.0% $189,200
45 Hiawatha 7,262 4.0% $140,900
46 Nevada 6,790 3.5% $128,300
47 Mount Pleasant 8,467 2.5% $109,600
48 Waverly 10,052 4.2% $164,000
49 Spencer 11,132 4.0% $123,800
50 Coralville 20,250 2.9% $206,800
51 Sheldon 5,060 1.9% $144,200
52 Ames 65,005 5.3% $187,000
53 Grimes 11,139 2.6% $199,700
54 Eldridge 6,231 5.0% $216,300
55 Le Mars 9,861 2.9% $148,900
56 Altoona 17,354 3.8% $174,700
57 Cedar Falls 41,167 4.1% $173,600
58 Norwalk 10,179 4.4% $179,300
59 West Des Moines 62,999 2.8% $203,300
60 Marion 38,014 4.0% $159,300
61 Pella 10,243 3.3% $181,900
62 Johnston 20,172 3.7% $248,100
63 Ankeny 56,237 2.8% $197,500
64 Urbandale 42,222 3.6% $216,100
65 Bettendorf 35,293 3.6% $197,000
66 Asbury 5,338 1.2% $240,500
67 Sioux Center 7,450 0.4% $191,100
68 Carroll 9,937 2.2% $139,300
69 North Liberty 17,721 1.2% $197,700
70 Algona 5,488 0.9% $130,800
71 Decorah 7,850 1.9% $165,700
72 Waukee 17,980 0.9% $211,100
73 Clive 17,134 2.5% $243,200

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17 thoughts on “These Are The 10 Worst Places To Live In Iowa For 2019

  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.

  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.

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