The 10 Worst Places To Live In Iowa For 2021

We used science and data to determine which cities in the Hawkeye State are the real pits.

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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.

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 2021

Centerville, IA

Overall SnackAbility


Population: 5,458
Rank Last Year: 2 (Up 1)
Median Home Value: $68,400
Unemployment Rate: 7.1%
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 7.1% unemployment rate and a $34,805 median income.

Ottumwa, IA

Overall SnackAbility


Population: 24,545
Rank Last Year: 3 (Up 1)
Median Home Value: $74,100
Unemployment Rate: 6.0%
More on Ottumwa:  Data | Photos

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.

Osceola, IA

Overall SnackAbility


Population: 5,103
Rank Last Year: 18 (Up 15)
Median Home Value: $95,700
Unemployment Rate: 2.6%
More on Osceola:  Data | Photos

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 2.6% and the median income hovers at $49,443.

Waterloo, IA

Overall SnackAbility


Population: 67,912
Rank Last Year: 7 (Up 3)
Median Home Value: $117,400
Unemployment Rate: 5.7%
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 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.

Council Bluffs, IA

Overall SnackAbility


Population: 62,355
Rank Last Year: 11 (Up 6)
Median Home Value: $120,100
Unemployment Rate: 4.3%
More on Council Bluffs:  Data | Photos

Council Bluffs is built along the Missouri River in the far western part of the state. It sits across the water from Omaha, Nebraska. At 62,355 people, it ranks among the biggest cities in Iowa.

Unlike most of the cities on this list, Council Bluffs doesn’t suffer from major economic woes. In fact, with an unemployment rate of 4.3% and a median income of $53,524, the city has a strong commercial backbone.

However, issues with housing and education undercut this strength. At the same time, crime represents the core concern in Council Bluffs. The crime rate tracks at more than 160% above the national average.

Fort Madison, IA

Source: Public domain
Overall SnackAbility


Population: 10,513
Rank Last Year: 4 (Down 2)
Median Home Value: $81,600
Unemployment Rate: 8.9%
More on Fort Madison:  Data | Photos

For a town of just 10,513 residents, Fort Madison has a lot of problems. The economy wheezes along with an unemployment rate of 8.9%. 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 $81,600, 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.

Clinton, IA

Overall SnackAbility


Population: 25,416
Rank Last Year: 1 (Down 6)
Median Home Value: $99,500
Unemployment Rate: 5.7%
More on Clinton:  Data | Photos

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 5.7%, but few of the local gigs pay well. The median income sits at just $44,094 and the poverty rate comes in at 17.3%.

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.

Des Moines, IA

Source: Public domain
Overall SnackAbility


Population: 215,636
Rank Last Year: 8 (No Change)
Median Home Value: $133,200
Unemployment Rate: 5.8%
More on Des Moines:  Data | Photos

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 8 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 16.1% 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.

Marshalltown, IA

Overall SnackAbility


Population: 27,053
Rank Last Year: 12 (Up 3)
Median Home Value: $94,300
Unemployment Rate: 5.4%
More on Marshalltown:  Data | Photos

Marshalltown’s original founder once called the area “the prettiest place in Iowa.” That might have been true in the 1850s. Nowadays, this town, located in the central part of the state, gets a different distinction: the number 9 worst spot in the state.

Marshalltown supports an uninspiring economy. The unemployment rate hovers at 5.4%, while the poverty rate comes in at 14.8%. Housing and safety are issues in the region. With a few exceptions, the local public schools also come up short.

Marshalltown has its claims to fame. Early baseball legend Cap Anson was born in the area. Also, the town boasts a house designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the Robert H. Sunday House.

Fort Dodge, IA

Overall SnackAbility


Population: 24,278
Rank Last Year: 17 (Up 7)
Median Home Value: $93,600
Unemployment Rate: 4.9%
More on Fort Dodge:  Data | Photos

Fort Dodge sits in north-central Iowa. At 24,278 people, the community ranks as a small town in most other parts of the country. But in a largely rural part of Iowa, it counts as a major commercial and cultural center, complete with an art museum, the Blanden Memorial Art Museum.

Good-paying jobs are rare in the area. The unemployment rate comes in at a relatively low 4.9%. However, the median income stands around $40,000 and the poverty rate equals 16.0%. Meanwhile, crime and education present serious problems as well. The local schools rank only a 3/10 on Great Schools.

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

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 — 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:

  1. Pella (Pop. 10,231)
  2. Clive (Pop. 17,167)
  3. Decorah (Pop. 7,701)

For more Iowa reading, check out:

Where Are The Worst Places To Live In Iowa?

Rank City Population Unemployment Rate Home Value
1 Centerville 5,458 7.1% $68,400
2 Ottumwa 24,545 6.0% $74,100
3 Osceola 5,103 2.6% $95,700
4 Waterloo 67,912 5.7% $117,400
5 Council Bluffs 62,355 4.3% $120,100
6 Fort Madison 10,513 8.9% $81,600
7 Clinton 25,416 5.7% $99,500
8 Des Moines 215,636 5.8% $133,200
9 Marshalltown 27,053 5.4% $94,300
10 Fort Dodge 24,278 4.9% $93,600
11 Keokuk 10,324 9.3% $71,200
12 Perry 7,599 7.4% $89,900
13 Red Oak 5,362 4.9% $82,400
14 Davenport 102,169 4.5% $131,700
15 Maquoketa 6,010 6.7% $90,700
16 Atlantic 6,669 1.7% $114,500
17 Anamosa 5,476 6.7% $103,400
18 Washington 7,313 4.6% $116,900
19 Winterset 5,260 3.1% $158,300
20 Newton 15,164 5.6% $114,200
21 Pleasant Hill 9,871 3.7% $201,500
22 Clarinda 5,388 5.7% $93,300
23 Grimes 12,839 6.6% $225,800
24 Burlington 24,974 6.3% $93,200
25 Oskaloosa 11,511 4.7% $96,300
26 Storm Lake 10,558 8.0% $121,300
27 Fairfield 10,290 8.7% $114,200
28 Denison 8,337 10.8% $93,600
29 Grinnell 9,031 4.7% $137,500
30 Indianola 15,802 3.8% $163,300
31 Oelwein 5,979 2.3% $82,200
32 Creston 7,784 3.6% $90,600
33 Estherville 5,796 5.0% $84,600
34 Glenwood 5,326 3.8% $148,500
35 Clear Lake 7,597 2.2% $156,000
36 Coralville 21,103 3.1% $227,700
37 Iowa Falls 5,122 1.6% $88,200
38 Hiawatha 7,333 4.6% $143,500
39 Muscatine 23,774 3.8% $110,800
40 Cedar Rapids 132,301 4.0% $141,800
41 Independence 6,056 1.9% $133,100
42 Waverly 10,094 2.8% $173,700
43 Spencer 11,052 5.0% $128,800
44 Bondurant 6,191 0.0% $217,500
45 Cedar Falls 40,983 3.1% $189,100
46 Ames 66,023 5.8% $205,900
47 Ankeny 61,938 3.0% $220,100
48 Manchester 5,019 0.6% $110,400
49 Sheldon 5,128 1.2% $130,500
50 Mount Pleasant 8,581 2.8% $116,500
51 Le Mars 9,941 2.1% $158,900
52 Algona 5,447 3.8% $131,500
53 Vinton 5,103 1.3% $137,600
54 Altoona 18,458 1.5% $196,600
55 Boone 12,487 1.8% $112,200
56 Nevada 6,754 1.0% $138,700
57 Knoxville 7,192 2.7% $95,100
58 Dubuque 58,196 4.7% $143,500
59 West Des Moines 65,606 2.3% $218,500
60 Spirit Lake 5,069 0.8% $156,300
61 Eldridge 6,529 2.6% $254,300
62 North Liberty 18,829 1.1% $220,800
63 Norwalk 10,978 2.4% $202,900
64 Sioux Center 7,534 0.0% $208,900
65 Johnston 21,406 2.4% $268,300
66 Carroll 9,904 2.4% $148,500
67 Marion 39,328 3.6% $168,700
68 Waukee 20,785 2.3% $238,900
69 Urbandale 43,441 3.1% $237,500
70 Bettendorf 35,919 2.9% $225,300
71 Asbury 5,557 2.5% $255,500
72 Pella 10,231 1.3% $187,400
73 Clive 17,167 3.1% $264,300
74 Decorah 7,701 2.6% $189,700

How Is The Area In ?

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 2021. This is our seventh time ranking the worst places to live in Iowa.

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.