These Are The 10 Worst Places To Live In Iowa For 2018


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

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This article is an opinion based on facts and is meant as infotainment. Don’t freak out that we updated it for 2018.

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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 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:

  1. Keokuk (Photos)
  2. Centerville (Photos)
  3. Red Oak (Photos)
  4. Ottumwa (Photos)
  5. Clinton (Photos)
  6. Waterloo (Photos)
  7. Maquoketa (Photos)
  8. Fort Dodge (Photos)
  9. Burlington (Photos)
  10. 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.

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

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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

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 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.

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1. Keokuk

Keokuk, Iowa

Source: Wikipedia

Population: 10,628
Rank 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.

2. Centerville

Centerville, Iowa

Source: Wikipedia

Population: 5,404
Rank 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

Red Oak, Iowa

Source: Wikipedia

Population: 5,547
Rank 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.

4. Ottumwa

Ottumwa, Iowa

Source: Wikipedia

Population: 24,709
Rank 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.

5. Clinton

Clinton, Iowa

Source: Wikipedia

Population: 26,148
Rank 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.

6. Waterloo

Waterloo, Iowa

Source: Wikipedia

Population: 68,357
Rank 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.

7. Maquoketa

Maquoketa, Iowa

Source: Wikipedia

Population: 6,025
Rank 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

Fort Dodge, Iowa

Source: Wikipedia

Population: 24,626
Rank 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.

9. Burlington

Burlington, Iowa

Source: Wikipedia

Population: 25,492
Rank 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

Fort Madison, Iowa

Source: Wikipedia

Population: 10,769
Rank 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:

  1. Asbury (Pop. 5,201)
  2. North Liberty (Pop. 16,984)
  3. Urbandale (Pop. 41,578)

For more Iowa reading, check out:

Detailed List Of The Worst Cities In Iowa

City Rank Previous Rank Population Unemployment Rate Home Value
Keokuk 1 1 10,628 10.3% $66,400
Centerville 2 2 5,404 7.8% $66,000
Red Oak 3 4 5,547 12.3% $72,500
Ottumwa 4 6 24,709 7.4% $73,200
Clinton 5 8 26,148 5.6% $92,600
Waterloo 6 5 68,357 8.3% $106,800
Maquoketa 7 7 6,025 8.3% $87,800
Fort Dodge 8 9 24,626 7.7% $84,700
Burlington 9 10 25,492 6.9% $87,200
Fort Madison 10 3 10,769 8.2% $79,500
Denison 11 13 8,326 6.2% $95,000
Des Moines 12 12 212,859 7.1% $119,800
Cherokee 13 22 5,113 3.6% $78,600
Estherville 14 25 6,027 6.5% $81,200
Oskaloosa 15 18 11,538 7.3% $95,800
Clarinda 16 19 5,431 5.2% $77,300
Council Bluffs 17 14 62,326 5.4% $113,500
Anamosa 18 28 5,459 8.5% $96,600
Davenport 19 17 102,305 5.1% $122,700
Marshalltown 20 15 27,637 7.1% $98,800
Oelwein 21 11 6,195 4.0% $67,300
Perry 22 16 7,876 2.4% $84,900
Storm Lake 23 29 10,768 5.8% $111,700
Newton 24 24 15,090 5.8% $98,100
Atlantic 25 23 6,817 1.9% $92,000
Harlan 26 26 5,008 2.7% $95,200
Muscatine 27 19 23,909 5.1% $109,000
Washington 28 34 7,368 6.7% $102,900
Winterset 29 27 5,158 7.6% $139,500
Shenandoah 30 21 5,030 2.2% $85,200
Fairfield 31 33 9,942 8.9% $100,900
Indianola 32 31 15,343 7.5% $151,400
Mount Pleasant 33 37 8,491 2.8% $107,900
Creston 34 36 7,877 3.4% $83,100
Clear Lake 35 35 7,644 2.2% $135,800
Knoxville 36 30 7,236 6.3% $93,800
Dubuque 37 38 58,535 5.0% $133,400
Glenwood 38 40 5,233 3.0% $134,600
Boone 39 41 12,609 4.7% $104,400
Independence 40 45 6,005 2.6% $118,900
Grinnell 41 48 9,112 4.1% $138,500
Manchester 42 32 5,083 2.6% $102,700
Bondurant 43 5,079 1.1% $170,700
Cedar Rapids 44 43 129,537 4.7% $136,700
Iowa Falls 45 39 5,176 4.8% $90,000
Nevada 46 42 6,796 4.9% $123,400
Pleasant Hill 47 51 9,406 2.0% $186,400
Spencer 48 44 11,172 3.6% $119,700
Vinton 49 46 5,166 2.9% $115,000
Ames 50 56 64,073 6.0% $176,500
Grimes 51 50 10,422 3.2% $188,900
De Witt 52 52 5,264 4.7% $139,700
Hiawatha 53 59 7,160 4.5% $138,200
Coralville 54 53 20,078 2.9% $202,800
Le Mars 55 47 9,826 3.8% $139,400
Waukee 56 60 16,955 1.0% $191,900
Sheldon 57 57 5,015 2.8% $142,200
Altoona 58 55 16,692 4.7% $168,100
Waverly 59 54 10,049 3.3% $160,300
Cedar Falls 60 67 40,828 4.7% $171,400
Eldridge 61 49 6,122 6.5% $205,000
Norwalk 62 58 9,944 5.4% $169,900
Bettendorf 63 72 35,048 4.3% $194,800
Marion 64 62 37,198 3.9% $154,900
Clive 65 61 17,022 3.3% $237,200
Decorah 66 63 7,985 2.4% $160,500
Ankeny 67 71 53,413 3.2% $186,200
Carroll 68 66 9,990 1.6% $137,600
Pella 69 68 10,280 3.3% $175,300
West Des Moines 70 65 61,624 2.7% $195,500
Johnston 71 69 19,491 3.8% $237,600
Algona 72 64 5,496 0.7% $115,400
Sioux Center 73 70 7,370 0.4% $186,000
Urbandale 74 75 41,578 4.0% $204,700
North Liberty 75 73 16,984 0.7% $188,400
Asbury 76 74 5,201 1.0% $229,800

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17 thoughts on “These Are The 10 Worst Places To Live In Iowa For 2018

  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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