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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 Centerville.
Read on below to see how we crunched the numbers and see how your city fared in 2021.
For more Iowa reading, check out:
The 10 Worst Places To Live In Iowa For 2021
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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, 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.
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, 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?
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
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:
- Pella (Pop. 10,231)
- Clive (Pop. 17,167)
- Decorah (Pop. 7,701)
For more Iowa reading, check out:
Where Are The Worst Places To Live In Iowa?