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

Overall SnackAbility


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

You can sure expect that Osceola is going to be a pretty rough place to live, it comes in 3rd in our analysis. It is. In fact, Osceola has the 16th-highest crime rate in the state. Probably no surprises there.

There were 24 violent crimes here in 2021, and residents have a 1 in 40.8 chance of being the victim of a property crime. That means, most likely, if you live in Osceola, either you or someone on your block had their home or car broken into last year.

You can also imagine that the economy here is in the pits -- the unemployment rate sits at 2.6% which is the 50th worst in Iowa.

Waterloo, IA

Source: Public domain
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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

The same problems that plague other cities on the list also affect Council Bluffs. The only real difference is Council Bluffs is a tiny bit safer, and the schools are rated a lot higher in terms of resources for students.

However, the unemployment rate in Council Bluffs is at 4.3%, which is the 30th worst in Iowa. And households earn a combined $53,524 a year, which is far below the state average. An average home in Council Bluffs is merely $120,100.

Council Bluffs is across the Tangier Sound on Route 50.

Fort Madison, IA

Source: Public domain
Overall SnackAbility


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

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 8.9%.

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.

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, 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 9th highest crime rate in the state.

Which also makes it hard to get a sense of community.

Des Moines, IA

Source: Public domain
Overall SnackAbility


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

If you live in Des Moines, this might not be a surprise, but you have the 6th highest crime rate, per capita in the state of Iowa. Every year you spend here, you have a 1 in 24.1 chance of being the victim of a property crime like a car break in or home invasion robbery.

That's a lot of stolen cell phones, laptops and black license plates.

Plus there were 1,555 violent crimes in the last FBI reporting year. That means if you spent a year there, you'd have a 1 in 138 chance of being raped or attacked.

Finally, the folks who live here earn the 4lowest salaries in Iowa At $53,525 a household, that's simply not enough to get by for most folks.

Marshalltown, IA

Overall SnackAbility


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, where there's absolutely nothing to do unless you enjoy bowling, ranks as the 9th worst city in Iowa.

Besides the lack of pure amenities, Marshalltown has some real economic problems to contend with. The unemployment rate hovers near 5.4%, and families earn around $52,035 a year. It's also the 24th highest in Iowa for crime, where 1 in 40.1 people gets robbed every year.

Does living in a place where people who come to visit are robbed sound like fun?

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

According to science, Fort Dodge is the 10th worst place you can live in Iowa.

Let's see why. Fort Dodge has the 12th-highest crime rate in the state, surprisingly. In terms of number of crimes per person, Fort Dodge is certainly up there.

Factor in a very low housing cost ($93,600), and the 23rd-highest unemployment rate in the state (4.9%), and across the board, Fort Dodge doesn't sound like the best of the best.

Plus, there's simply not a lot to do here (unless you count having a Walmart and a Piggly Wiggly as fun). We're aware that people enjoy outdoor activities, but in terms of pure entertainment, you'd have to drive a ways away.

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.

  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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