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 76 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:
- Keokuk (Photos)
- Centerville (Photos)
- Red Oak (Photos)
- Ottumwa (Photos)
- Clinton (Photos)
- Waterloo (Photos)
- Maquoketa (Photos)
- Fort Dodge (Photos)
- Burlington (Photos)
- Fort Madison (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. Read on below to see how we crunched the numbers and see how your city fared in 2018.
How we determined the worst places to live in Iowa for 2018
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 76 cities.
We then ranked each city from 1 to 76 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.
Population: 10,628Rank Last Year: 1 (No Change)
Home Values: $66,400 (2nd worst)
Unemployment Rate: 10.3% (2nd worst)
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 2nd highest in the state. Homes are the 2nd cheapest in Iowa here, and at $66,400, that shows there’s not a lot of demand to live here.
Plus, crime is the 2nd highest in the state of Iowa in Keokuk. In Keokuk, there were 76 violent crimes in 2015. That means people who live here have a 1 in 139 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.
Population: 5,404Rank Last Year: 2 (No Change)
Home Values: $66,000 (1st worst)
Unemployment Rate: 7.8% (8th worst)
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 7.8% unemployment rate and a $30,442 median income.
3. Red Oak
Population: 5,547Rank Last Year: 4 (Up 1)
Home Values: $72,500 (4th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 12.3% (1st worst)
You might have passed through Red Oak once and probably throught it seems to be a relatively quiet, clean place.
Here’s what science says about why Red Oak needs some love: The unemployment rate is nearly 12.3%, residents earn about $33,077 a year, and home prices are just over $72,500. Across the board, those are in the bottom half in the state. Not absolutely horrible, but not desirable, either.
And there simply isn’t anything to do in Red Oak.
Population: 24,709Rank Last Year: 6 (Up 2)
Home Values: $73,200 (5th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 7.4% (12th worst)
Statistically, Ottumwa has a better crime rate, but it isn’t rosy there, either. Residents had a 1 in 23.0 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.
Population: 26,148Rank Last Year: 8 (Up 3)
Home Values: $92,600 (18th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 5.6% (25th worst)
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 5th highest crime rate in the state.
Which also makes it hard to get a sense of community.
Population: 68,357Rank Last Year: 5 (Down 1)
Home Values: $106,800 (30th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 8.3% (5th worst)
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 6th 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 2014, and residents have a 1 in 32.2 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.
Population: 6,025Rank Last Year: 7 (No Change)
Home Values: $87,800 (15th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 8.3% (5th worst)
Maquoketa is just a tiny place in the middle of nowhere where people have a hard time making ends meet. Folks here earn barely more than $40,982 a year, which is barely over the poverty line. And for Iowa, a 8.3% unemployment rate is really high.
Crime is also the 36th highest in Iowa here. Meaning people need to stop breaking into homes and start looking for jobs.
8. Fort Dodge
Population: 24,626Rank Last Year: 9 (Up 1)
Home Values: $84,700 (11th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 7.7% (9th worst)
Fort Dodge is the 15th most dangerous place in the state of Iowa. That’s part of the reason it’s the 8th worst place in Iowa.
The fact remains, that when you’re within Fort Dodge city limits, you have a 1 in 25.2 chance of being robbed or having something you own vandalized.Does that sound like a fun place to live?
Did you know Fort Dodge also has the 9th highest unemployment rate in the state at 7.7%? Or that homes are only valued at $84,700?
Say what you want about cheap living. The fact is, homes are priced by demand, and there’s little demand to live in Fort Dodge.
Population: 25,492Rank Last Year: 10 (Up 1)
Home Values: $87,200 (14th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 6.9% (16th worst)
When you’re looking at science and data, Burlington is the 9th worst place you can live in the state of Iowa. Let’s see why.
First off, the crime here is really high, in comparison to the rest of Iowa. Burlington is the 13th most dangerous place you can live in the state, where you have a 1 in 24.8 chance of being the victim of some type of property crime. Meaning lots of people are getting robbed here.
Homes here average $87,200, which is the 14th lowest in the state. You can defend ‘cheap living’ all you want, but the fact is, homes are priced by demand, and there’s not a lot of demand to live in Burlington.
Income levels are just about $40,381, the 11th lowest in Iowa.
When you add it all up, Burlington really is quite an undesirable place to live. The people who have to live in here could use a big hug right about now.
10. Fort Madison
Population: 10,769Rank Last Year: 3 (Down 7)
Home Values: $79,500 (8th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 8.2% (7th worst)
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 8.2%.
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.
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 2018.
If you’re curious enough, here are the best cities to live in Iowa:
- Asbury (Pop. 5,201)
- North Liberty (Pop. 16,984)
- Urbandale (Pop. 41,578)
For more Iowa reading, check out:
- These Are The 10 Most Miserable Cities In Iowa
- These Are The 10 Most Redneck Cities In Iowa
- These Are The 10 Snobbiest Cities In Iowa
Detailed List Of The Worst Cities In Iowa
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