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:
- Keokuk (Photos)
- Centerville (Photos)
- Clinton (Photos)
- Ottumwa (Photos)
- Waterloo (Photos)
- Fort Madison (Photos)
- Red Oak (Photos)
- Des Moines (Photos)
- Newton (Photos)
- 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.
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
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.
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 2019. 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.
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, 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.
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 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 2018, 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.
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 is the 11th most dangerous place in the state of Iowa. That’s part of the reason it’s the 7th worst place in Iowa.
The fact remains, that when you’re within Red Oak city limits, you have a 1 in 28.8 chance of being robbed or having something you own vandalized.Does that sound like a fun place to live?
Did you know Red Oak also has the 2nd highest unemployment rate in the state at 8.7%? Or that homes are only valued at $72,500?
Say what you want about cheap living. The fact is, homes are priced by demand, and there’s little demand to live in Red Oak.
Des Moines, where there’s absolutely nothing to do unless you enjoy bowling, ranks as the 8th worst city in Iowa.
Besides the lack of pure amenities, Des Moines has some real economic problems to contend with. The unemployment rate hovers near 6.5%, and families earn around $49,999 a year. It’s also the 8th highest in Iowa for crime, where 1 in 22.4 people gets robbed every year.
Does living in a place where people who come to visit are robbed sound like fun?
The city of Newton is the 9th worst place you can live in the state of Iowa in 2019.
It’s unlucky for Newton, which has the 10th highest unemployment rate (6.7%), the 32nd lowest household incomes ($48,847) and the 22nd lowest home prices in the state ($98,200).
Basically, a lot of people in Newton are out of work. And crime is certainly a factor here as well. Although it’s not one of the most dangerous places we’ll look at, it’s in the top 20%.
Add it all up, and this is truly one of the worst places you could live in Iowa.
When you’re looking at science and data, Fort Dodge is the 10th 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. Fort Dodge is the 9th most dangerous place you can live in the state, where you have a 1 in 22.9 chance of being the victim of some type of property crime. Meaning lots of people are getting robbed here.
Homes here average $90,500, which is the 15th 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 Fort Dodge.
Income levels are just about $38,386, the 4th lowest in Iowa.
When you add it all up, Fort Dodge really is quite an undesirable place to live. The people who have to live in here could use a big hug right about now.
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:
- Decorah (Pop. 7,850)
- Waukee (Pop. 17,980)
- Clive (Pop. 17,134)
For more Iowa reading, check out:
- These Are The 10 Best Places To Retire In Iowa
- These Are The 10 Richest Cities In Iowa
- 10 Safest Places In Iowa
- 10 Best Cities For Singles In Iowa
Detailed List Of The Worst Places To Live In Iowa
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