The 10 Worst Places To Live In Iowa For 2024

The worst places to live in Iowa are Clinton and Keokuk for 2024 based on Friday Night Science.

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 77 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:

Table Of Contents: Top Ten | Methodology | Summary | Table

The 10 Worst Places To Live In Iowa For 2024

  1. Clinton
  2. Keokuk
  3. Ottumwa
  4. Waterloo
  5. Osceola
  6. Centerville
  7. Oelwein
  8. Fort Madison
  9. Maquoketa
  10. Des Moines

Worst Places To Live In Iowa Map

Where are these places, you wonder? And before you get all riled up and say we’re picking on small towns in Iowa, that’s not the case.

We understand there’s a lot of good in every place. For example, the best place to live in Iowa is Sergeant Bluff.

However, according to data (which doesn’t measure things like beauty and ‘friendly people’), the state has far better options for making a place home. And the worst place to live in Iowa? The worst place to live in Iowa is Clinton.

Read below to see how we crunched the numbers and how your city fared in 2024.

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 2024

Clinton, IA

Source: Wikipedia User Michael J. Kearney | CC BY-SA 2.5
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Population: 24,524
Average Home Price: $118,088
Median Income: $55,196
Unemployment Rate: 5.2%
Crime Per Capita: 0.0458
More on Clinton: Data | Crime | Cost Of Living | Real Estate

Clinton sits in the east-central part of the state, across the Mississippi River from Illinois. In the second half of the 19th century, the railroad brought prosperity to the town. The 21st century has told a different story.

The unemployment rate stands at a reasonably healthy 5.2%, but few of the local gigs pay well. The median income sits at just $55,196 and the poverty rate comes in at 17.0%.

This unimpressive economy leads to issues with housing and education. At the same time, the local crime rate tracks at nearly 60% higher than the U.S. standard.

Keokuk, IA

Source: Wikipedia User Billwhittaker at English Wikipedia | CC BY-SA 3.0
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Population: 9,868
Average Home Price: $77,849
Median Income: $47,571
Unemployment Rate: 8.0%
Crime Per Capita: 0.0283
More on Keokuk: Data | Crime | Cost Of Living | Real Estate

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 8.0% clip, which is the 5th highest in the state. Homes are the 2nd cheapest in Iowa here, and at $77,849, that shows there’s not a lot of demand to live here.

Plus, crime is the 13th highest in the state of Iowa in Keokuk. In Keokuk, there were 71 violent crimes in 2024. That means people who live here have a 1 in 138 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.

Ottumwa, IA

Source: Wikipedia User en:User:Cburnett | GFDL
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Population: 25,359
Average Home Price: $108,733
Median Income: $53,085
Unemployment Rate: 4.5%
Crime Per Capita: 0.0443
More on Ottumwa: Data | Crime | Cost Of Living | Real Estate

Statistically, Ottumwa has a better crime rate, but it isn’t rosy there, either. Residents had a 1 in 27.3 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 30th highest in Iowa.

Ottumwa is located along the Des Moines River on Route 63 in the southern part of the state.

Waterloo, IA

Source: Wikipedia User FlickreviewR 2 | CC BY 2.0
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Population: 67,256
Average Home Price: $135,521
Median Income: $54,104
Unemployment Rate: 7.1%
Crime Per Capita: 0.0304
More on Waterloo: Data | Crime | Cost Of Living | Real Estate

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 10th 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 2023, and residents have a 1 in 40.6 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.

Osceola, IA

Source: Wikipedia User en:User:Cburnett | GFDL
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Population: 5,455
Average Home Price: $163,656
Median Income: $55,208
Unemployment Rate: 5.8%
Crime Per Capita: 0.0191
More on Osceola: Data | Crime | Cost Of Living | Real Estate

Osceola is located in the central part of Iowa, about 45 minutes south of Des Moines. Despite a robust local economy, crime and a weak school system make the community one of the worst places in Iowa to put down roots.

Osceola has a modest crime problem. The crime rate runs about 15% above the national average. Schools in the region also face their challenges, with a top score on Great Schools of just 6/10.

Still, there are benefits to life in Osceola. This home to the Lakeside Hotel & Casino offers some job opportunities. The unemployment rate sits at 5.8% and the median income hovers at $55,208.

Centerville, IA

Source: Wikipedia User Jim Roberts | CC BY-SA 4.0
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Population: 5,393
Average Home Price: $73,340
Median Income: $42,064
Unemployment Rate: 8.8%
Crime Per Capita: 0.0234
More on Centerville: Data | Crime | Cost Of Living | Real Estate

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 8.8% unemployment rate and a $42,064 median income.

Oelwein, IA

Source: Flickr User JCHaywire | CC BY-SA 2.0
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Population: 5,934
Average Home Price: $97,930
Median Income: $41,629
Unemployment Rate: 6.7%
Crime Per Capita: 0.0110
More on Oelwein: Data | Crime | Cost Of Living | Real Estate

Fort Madison, IA

Source: Public domain
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Population: 10,293
Average Home Price: $102,359
Median Income: $48,944
Unemployment Rate: 5.6%
Crime Per Capita: 0.0234
More on Fort Madison: Data | Crime | Cost Of Living | Real Estate

For a town of just 10,293 residents, Fort Madison has a lot of problems. The economy wheezes along with an unemployment rate of 5.6%. The area’s housing and schools are substandard. Even the crime rate tops the national average.

Given these challenges, it’s no surprise Fort Madison wound up on this list. Still, there are benefits to living in this town, located in the far southeastern part of the state.

With a median home value of $102,359, it’s easy to find affordable housing. Meanwhile, built along the Mississippi River, the area comes with dramatic views and a sense of its pioneer past. Take a trip to Old Fort Madison for a taste of these early days.

Maquoketa, IA

Source: Public domain
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Population: 6,123
Average Home Price: $177,483
Median Income: $53,462
Unemployment Rate: 7.4%
Crime Per Capita: 0.0222
More on Maquoketa: Data | Crime | Cost Of Living | Real Estate

Des Moines, IA

Source: Public domain
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Population: 213,164
Average Home Price: $194,392
Median Income: $62,378
Unemployment Rate: 5.9%
Crime Per Capita: 0.0380
More on Des Moines: Data | Crime | Cost Of Living | Real Estate

Des Moines holds a lot of distinctions in the state of Iowa. It’s the state capital. It also serves as the state’s largest metropolitan area. Unfortunately, bigger doesn’t always mean better. In this case, Iowa’s major urban area counts as the number 10 worst place to live in the state.

Safety represents the main concern. The local crime rate almost doubles the national average. There is also a lack of good-paying jobs, with 15.2% of the population making due below the poverty line.

There are benefits to living in the city. Life in Des Moines comes with plenty of amenities and a significant number of parks. You’ll also find attractions like the Science Center of Iowa.

Methodology: How we determined the worst places to live in Iowa for 2024

To figure out the worst places to live in Iowa, we used Saturday Night Science to idenift 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 the FBI Uniform Crime Report.

We broke crime down into violent crime and property crime to give violent crime a more significant weight. If you did a simple calculation of all crimes per capita, property crimes are typically 7x more common and bias that ranking.

Furthermore, only cities with at least 5,000 people were considered — leaving 77 cities.

We then ranked each city from 1 to 77 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 ten worst cities in Iowa. This article is an opinion based on facts meant as infotainment. We updated this article for 2024. This list is our tenth time ranking the worst places to live in Iowa.

Summary: 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 little to do, this is an accurate list.

And in the end, Clinton ranks as the worst city to live in Iowa for 2024.

The worst cities in Iowa are .

If you’re curious enough, here are the best cities to live in Iowa:

  1. North Liberty (Pop. 20,393)
  2. Asbury (Pop. 5,890)
  3. Sergeant Bluff (Pop. 5,007)

For more Iowa reading, check out:

Worst Places To Live In Iowa

Rank City Population Unemployment Rate Home Price Median Income Crime Per Capita
1 Clinton 24,524 5.2% $118,088 $55,196 0.0458
2 Keokuk 9,868 8.0% $77,849 $47,571 0.0283
3 Ottumwa 25,359 4.5% $108,733 $53,085 0.0443
4 Waterloo 67,256 7.1% $135,521 $54,104 0.0304
5 Osceola 5,455 5.8% $163,656 $55,208 0.0191
6 Centerville 5,393 8.8% $73,340 $42,064 0.0234
7 Oelwein 5,934 6.7% $97,930 $41,629 0.0110
8 Fort Madison 10,293 5.6% $102,359 $48,944 0.0234
9 Maquoketa 6,123 7.4% $177,483 $53,462 0.0222
10 Des Moines 213,164 5.9% $194,392 $62,378 0.0380
11 Clarinda 5,371 11.0% $116,188 $51,413 0.0140
12 Davenport 101,448 5.0% $166,729 $59,890 0.0414
13 Marshalltown 27,511 6.8% $148,067 $65,000 0.0239
14 Council Bluffs 62,670 4.2% $196,527 $61,181 0.0340
15 Newton 15,692 6.1% $161,059 $53,873 0.0178
16 Iowa Falls 5,095 6.1% $122,764 $50,035 0.0236
17 Perry 7,875 9.5% $141,243 $57,276 0.0118
18 Red Oak 5,563 7.5% $106,242 $50,984 0.0191
19 Fort Dodge 24,850 3.2% $126,549 $59,452 0.0355
20 Clear Lake 7,642 2.9% $314,635 $66,900 0.0254
21 Denison 8,316 6.2% $162,813 $57,744 0.0113
22 Burlington 23,976 4.0% $115,784 $51,628 0.0419
23 Muscatine 23,671 4.3% $171,138 $58,474 0.0194
24 Washington 7,329 3.2% $169,496 $56,399 0.0226
25 Cherokee 5,154 3.7% $136,850 $51,651 0.0081
26 Knoxville 7,523 3.2% $180,777 $57,318 0.0223
27 Creston 7,519 4.5% $127,665 $51,366 0.0152
28 Pleasant Hill 10,456 9.2% $289,143 $81,992 0.0222
29 Hiawatha 7,179 7.2% $234,116 $65,610 0.0237
30 Atlantic 6,770 1.3% $138,713 $54,692 0.0222
31 Grimes 15,402 6.4% $330,335 $99,896 0.0202
32 Manchester 5,112 2.8% $160,728 $57,969 0.0192
33 Fairfield 9,474 6.5% $147,059 $44,277 0.0170
34 Storm Lake 11,194 4.1% $170,758 $54,615 0.0169
35 Estherville 5,881 2.3% $105,579 $55,699 0.0083
36 Indianola 15,845 3.9% $279,064 $73,534 0.0258
37 Oskaloosa 11,492 4.3% $162,462 $57,949 0.0161
38 Bondurant 7,617 0.7% $319,817 $120,588 0.0380
39 Mount Pleasant 9,214 2.7% $176,987 $58,895 0.0166
40 Cedar Rapids 136,929 3.9% $183,682 $66,895 0.0333
41 Grinnell 9,511 4.0% $198,148 $57,813 0.0274
42 Anamosa 5,493 5.0% $220,620 $55,934 0.0102
43 Glenwood 5,128 7.1% $288,271 $65,833 0.0125
44 Dubuque 59,315 5.0% $216,138 $63,520 0.0224
45 Coralville 22,494 2.1% $234,792 $67,691 0.0305
46 Algona 5,443 5.5% $166,950 $52,903 0.0053
47 Adel 6,090 3.9% $389,668 $91,891 0.0130
48 Boone 12,482 0.8% $166,057 $64,192 0.0143
49 Nevada 6,933 1.8% $224,887 $69,742 0.0164
50 Spencer 11,351 5.2% $172,012 $57,175 0.0113
51 Ames 66,265 7.1% $242,576 $57,428 0.0151
52 Le Mars 10,549 2.7% $223,605 $73,734 0.0116
53 Waverly 10,399 2.7% $246,782 $78,278 0.0174
54 Altoona 20,017 6.7% $300,143 $89,100 0.0155
55 Independence 6,106 1.5% $192,496 $63,042 0.0131
56 Waukee 25,045 3.1% $337,040 $106,846 0.0099
57 Winterset 5,366 1.1% $258,592 $71,411 0.0153
58 West Des Moines 68,744 2.8% $294,330 $82,345 0.0202
59 Sheldon 5,417 1.5% $187,712 $61,939 0.0111
60 Cedar Falls 40,686 3.0% $233,285 $71,011 0.0204
61 Clive 18,576 2.8% $397,338 $124,908 0.0137
62 Spirit Lake 5,409 1.2% $306,042 $70,248 0.0216
63 Marion 41,401 3.7% $249,715 $81,519 0.0148
64 Ankeny 68,392 2.6% $323,344 $101,151 0.0135
65 Norwalk 13,057 3.1% $318,235 $94,176 0.0029
66 Decorah 7,611 3.3% $277,060 $57,939 0.0029
67 Urbandale 45,591 2.1% $326,786 $111,888 0.0081
68 Sioux Center 8,227 1.1% $306,984 $82,050 0.0030
69 Bettendorf 38,997 2.4% $294,879 $100,570 0.0148
70 Carroll 10,270 2.8% $184,709 $60,368 0.0152
71 Johnston 23,856 2.0% $374,570 $98,324 0.0073
72 Pella 10,556 1.7% $313,636 $86,025 0.0086
73 Windsor Heights 5,200 2.0% $264,202 $85,055 0.0350
74 Eldridge 6,693 1.7% $307,856 $89,946 0.0084
75 North Liberty 20,393 2.0% $286,151 $100,197 0.0049
76 Asbury 5,890 4.1% $333,805 $117,391 0.0029
77 Sergeant Bluff 5,007 4.2% $331,417 $117,500 0.0070
About Nick Johnson

Nick Johnson earned his masters in Business Administration from the Drucker School At Claremont Graduate University. He has written for 39 publications across the country and ran the media relations department at Movoto, a real estate portal based in San Francisco. He has been featured in over 500 publications as an expert in real estate and as an authority on real estate trends.

Nick's the creator of the HomeSnacks YouTube channel that now has over 260,000 subscribers and is an excellent source to learn about different parts of the country.

21 thoughts on “The 10 Worst Places To Live In Iowa For 2024

  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.

    1. I agree and Ankeny rates on of the fastest growing great schools all new, to live in,but highest taxes.

  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

  13. I grew up in Ft. Dodge Iowa. I have lived the last 20 some years in Corpus Christi Texas. Completely different than Ft. Dodge needless to say. But I have nothing but fond memories of growing up in Ft. Dodge way back in the mid seventies. It was a great place to run free as a teenager. I loved it there and those times.

  14. Ottumwa needs to be 1st on the list of worst places, if it isn’t already since this article came out. The meth is ridiculously easy to get, (just ask any gas station attendant and they’ll hook you up), the police force is corrupt and they sit outside of every bar in town at 2am just waiting to collect DUI’s (OWI’s in Iowa), the town is completely overrun with illegal Mexicans because we have slaughterhouse here (JBS), almost every neighborhood looks like a third world country, and the folks that live here that DO make any money don’t spend it here, they go to Des Moines or Iowa City.

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