The 10 Worst Places To Live In Iowa


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 2020. This is our sixth time ranking the worst places to live in Iowa.

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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:

The 10 Worst Places To Live In Iowa For 2020

  1. Clinton
  2. Centerville
  3. Ottumwa
  4. Fort Madison
  5. Keokuk
  6. Red Oak
  7. Des Moines
  8. Waterloo
  9. Perry
  10. Davenport

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.

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 2020

Clinton, IA

Overall SnackAbility

5
/10

Population: 25,637
Rank Last Year: 3 (Up 2)
Median Home Value: $96,100 (19th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 5.4% (19th 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 3rd highest crime rate in the state.

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

Centerville, IA

Overall SnackAbility

5
/10

Population: 5,487
Rank Last Year: 2 (No Change)
Median Home Value: $68,400 (1st worst)
Unemployment Rate: 4.8% (24th 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 4.8% unemployment rate and a $33,682 median income.

Ottumwa, IA

Overall SnackAbility

4
/10

Population: 24,676
Rank Last Year: 4 (Up 1)
Median Home Value: $73,900 (3rd worst)
Unemployment Rate: 6.6% (10th 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 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.

Fort Madison, IA

Source: Public domain
Overall SnackAbility

5
/10

Population: 10,614
Rank Last Year: 8 (Up 4)
Median Home Value: $79,500 (5th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 8.8% (4th 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 8.8%.

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.

Keokuk, IA

Overall SnackAbility

4
/10

Population: 10,412
Rank Last Year: 1 (Down 4)
Median Home Value: $70,400 (2nd worst)
Unemployment Rate: 10.7% (2nd worst)
More on Keokuk:  Data | Photos

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, IA

Source: Public domain
Overall SnackAbility

5
/10

Population: 5,434
Rank Last Year: 7 (Up 1)
Median Home Value: $80,800 (6th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 8.1% (7th worst)
More on Red Oak:  Data | Photos

When you're looking at science and data, the city of Red Oak is the 6th worst place you can live in the state of Iowa. Let's see why.

Residents who live in Red Oak, located in Montgomery County, have the 11th most crimes in the state committed against them. Factor in a much-lower income level--per resident--and homes valued around $80,800, and you've got yourself a crummy place to live. In terms of comparing it to the rest of Iowa, that is.

Des Moines, IA

Source: Public domain
Overall SnackAbility

6
/10

Population: 215,932
Rank Last Year: 6 (Down 1)
Median Home Value: $127,200 (36th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 6.0% (13th worst)
More on Des Moines:  Data | Photos

If you're looking to live in Iowa, Des Moines might not be the best choice as it places 7th in our ranking of the worst places to live in the Hawkeye State for 2020.

The average family earns $52,251 a year out here, and 17.2% of the population is below the poverty line. Nearly 6.0% of the population is out of work.

And when you consider the crime, it's just crazy to think of how dangerous it is to live way out here. When you're in Des Moines, every year, you have a 1 in 22.5 chance of being robbed. Can you imagine? Perhaps it's an economic factor, or the fact that the people out there are so isolated, but the fact remains, it's the 8th most dangerous place in the state, per capita.

Waterloo, IA

Source: Public domain
Overall SnackAbility

5
/10

Population: 68,134
Rank Last Year: 5 (Down 3)
Median Home Value: $114,000 (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 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.

Perry, IA

Overall SnackAbility

5
/10

Population: 7,667
Rank Last Year: 14 (Up 5)
Median Home Value: $87,700 (9th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 5.0% (22nd worst)
More on Perry:  Data | Photos

When you're looking at the worst places you could live in Iowa, Perry came in 9th. Let's see why.

When you're comparing the unemployment rate to the rest of the nation, Iowa residents are very hard workers. But when comparing the unemployment rate among cities in Iowa, you can see some really big differences. In Perry, the number of people out of work is 5.0%

In Iowa, that's the 22nd highest in the state.

The residents in Perry have the 14th lowest incomes in the state. Folks in Perry average $43,637 a year. Which isn't too shabby in comparison to the other 'lowest' income cities in most other states.

Additionally, the homes are valued at $87,700 on average. That's the 9th lowest in the state.

Davenport, IA

Overall SnackAbility

6
/10

Population: 102,318
Rank Last Year: 13 (Up 3)
Median Home Value: $127,100 (35th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 4.4% (29th worst)
More on Davenport:  Data | Photos

While numbers in Iowa are clearly better when you compare them to the rest of the nation, the fact is when you compare Iowa cities against one another, you see big differences.

Home values in Davenport average $127,100, which is the 35th lowest in the state. Say what you want about 'cheap living,' the fact is homes are priced by demand, and there's not a lot of demand to live in Davenport.

Plus, 16.6% of the population here lives below the poverty line.

Plus, the crime rate is the 4th highest in the state here. Every year, when you're within Davenport city limits, you have a 1 in 19.5 chance of being robbed. That's a lot of broken into cars and homes.

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

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 -- 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:

  1. Carroll (Pop. 9,899)
  2. Clive (Pop. 17,195)
  3. Decorah (Pop. 7,765)

For more Iowa reading, check out:

Where Are The Worst Places To Live In Iowa?

Rank City Population Unemployment Rate Home Value
1 Clinton 25,637 5.4% $96,100
2 Centerville 5,487 4.8% $68,400
3 Ottumwa 24,676 6.6% $73,900
4 Fort Madison 10,614 8.8% $79,500
5 Keokuk 10,412 10.7% $70,400
6 Red Oak 5,434 8.1% $80,800
7 Des Moines 215,932 6.0% $127,200
8 Waterloo 68,134 5.7% $114,000
9 Perry 7,667 5.0% $87,700
10 Davenport 102,318 4.4% $127,100

How Is The Area In ?

18 thoughts on “The 10 Worst Places To Live In Iowa

  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

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