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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 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 Clinton.
Read on below to see how we crunched the numbers and see how your city fared in 2020.
For more Iowa reading, check out:
The 10 Worst Places To Live In Iowa For 2020
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.
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 4.8% unemployment rate and a $33,682 median income.
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 10th highest in Iowa.
Ottumwa is located along the Des Moines River on Route 63 in the southern part of the state.
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 8.8%.
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.
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 10.7% clip, which is the 2nd highest in the state. Homes are the 2nd cheapest in Iowa here, and at $70,400, that shows there's not a lot of demand to live here.
Plus, crime is the highest in the state of Iowa in Keokuk. In Keokuk, there were 90 violent crimes in 2020. That means people who live here have a 1 in 115 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.
Red Oak doesn't have it much better, in terms of overall economic outlook. The unemployment rate is at 8.1%, and people average less than $38,876 a year in combined household incomes. Homes stand at $80,800, which is very low, and crime in the worst 10% in Iowa.
And again, in terms of the overall 'enjoyment' factor, it's not easy to find fun on a Friday night.
Here in Des Moines, you have some of the highest crime and the highest unemployment rates in Iowa. That's not a good combination.
Located in Polk County, you have a 1 in 22.5 chance of being the victim of a property crime when inside Des Moines city limits every year. Some of those crimes might be due to the relatively high unemployment rate (6.0%). That's good for the 13th highest unemployment rate in Iowa.
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 2019, 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.
Out of all the places to live in Iowa, Perry ranks as the 9th worst -- not something to brag about.
Perry's unemployment rate stands at 5.0%. While the income levels out here are some of the lowest in the state. Residents earn a combined $43,637 a year in salaries. That's not enough to really get ahead in life.
Additionally, the homes are the 9th cheapest in the entire state at $87,700. Again, some people like the cheap cost of living, but housing is priced on demand, and the fact is, there's not a lot of demand to live way out in Perry. Plus, what do you do for fun here anyway?
Crime is the 20th worst in the state. You have a 1 in 31.0 chance of being robbed here and a 1 in 479 chance of being attacked or raped. Yikes.
While the median household income in Davenport is higher than other towns on this list, causing it to be lower down on the list of "worst cities", Davenport still has the 29th worst unemployment rate in the state, as well as the 4th worst crime index.
Therefore, though the average Davenport household brings in a higher income, there are fewer people working here than in other cities across the state. It doesn't help that everyone has to be constantly worried about crime, either.
How we determined the worst places to live in Iowa for 2020
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 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 -- Clinton. 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, Clinton ranks as the worst city to live in Iowa for 2020.
If you're curious enough, here are the best cities to live in Iowa:
- Carroll (Pop. 9,899)
- Clive (Pop. 17,195)
- Decorah (Pop. 7,765)
For more Iowa reading, check out:
- Best Places To Retire In Iowa
- Richest Cities In Iowa
- Safest Places In Iowa
- Best Cities For Singles In Iowa
Where Are The Worst Places To Live In Iowa?