Grim Status Why This Iowa City is Named as the Worst to Live in

Grim Status: Why This Iowa City is Named as the Worst to Live in?

Iowa is recognized for its agriculture, hospitable residents, and affordable living expenses. However, not all cities in Iowa provide an equal standard of living. Based on a recent report by 24/7 Wall St., one city in Iowa stands out as the least desirable place to reside: Fort Madison, situated in the southeastern part of the state.

Why is Fort Madison the worst place to live in Iowa?

The study conducted by 24/7 Wall St. has identified the least favorable city to reside in each state, utilizing a weighted index comprising 25 social and economic indicators like poverty, unemployment, crime, education, health, and housing.

The assessment encompassed locations with a population of at least 8,000, including cities, towns, villages, and census-designated places.

Fort Madison, with an approximate population of 10,500, received unfavorable ratings across various criteria. Here are a few reasons why Fort Madison has been deemed the least desirable city to live in Iowa:

1. High Poverty Rate: With a poverty rate of 21.5%, Fort Madison exceeds the state average of 9.5%, leaving nearly one in four residents living below the poverty line, set at $26,246 for a family of four in 2024.

2. Low Median Household Income: The median household income in Fort Madison is $39,779, a considerable $20,000 lower than the state median of $60,015. This income disparity is accompanied by a notable wealth gap, as the top 20% of earners make over five times more than the bottom 20%.

3. High Crime Rate: Fort Madison grapples with a disproportionately high crime rate. The violent crime rate stands at 867.4 per 100,000 people, surpassing both state and national averages.

The property crime rate is also a concern, at 6,653.6 per 100,000 people, more than double the national average. Residents face a 1 in 15 chance of falling victim to either violent or property crime annually.

Grim Status Why This Iowa City is Named as the Worst to Live in

4. Low Educational Attainment: Educational attainment is a challenge, with only 14.4% of adults holding a bachelor’s degree or higher, well below both state and national averages. Conversely, the percentage of adults who did not complete high school is high, standing at 13.1%, compared to 7.5% at the state level and 10.5% nationally.

5. Poor Health Outcomes: Fort Madison experiences adverse health outcomes, including a high rate of premature death at 9,900 years of potential life lost before age 75 per 100,000 people—higher than state and national averages.

Additionally, the city grapples with a high adult obesity rate of 35.9% and a lower-than-average health insurance coverage rate of 87.9%. These factors contribute to an overall challenging health landscape for Fort Madison residents.

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Opportunities and Difficulties Does Fort Madison Face

Fort Madison confronts various challenges impacting its overall well-being, including a dwindling population, a contracting tax base, limited economic diversity, and deteriorating infrastructure. Additionally, the city grapples with a negative reputation and residents experiencing low self-esteem, often feeling overlooked by both state and federal authorities.

Grim Status Why This Iowa City is Named as the Worst to Live in

Nevertheless, Fort Madison possesses opportunities for improvement, leveraging its rich history, picturesque location along the Mississippi River, cultural diversity, and potential for tourism and recreation.

Notably, the city houses the Iowa State Penitentiary, the oldest operational prison west of the Mississippi, attracting history and architecture enthusiasts.

The annual Tri-State Rodeo, a major event drawing participants and spectators nationwide, contributes to Fort Madison’s appeal. The city boasts a vibrant arts and music scene, hosting various festivals, galleries, and venues showcasing local talent.

Fort Madison holds assets that could attract new businesses and residents, including a low cost of living, proximity to major markets like Chicago and St. Louis, accessibility to rail and river transportation, and available land and buildings.

Several initiatives aim to rejuvenate Fort Madison, focusing on downtown revitalization, enhancing public spaces, and promoting community development. These initiatives include the Main Street Iowa program, the Fort Madison Partners organization, and the Fort Madison Vision Plan.


Fort Madison has been deemed the least favorable city to reside in Iowa, as per a report from 24/7 Wall St. The community grapples with issues like elevated poverty, diminished income, heightened crime rates, subpar education, and compromised health conditions, all contributing to a diminished quality of life.

Despite these challenges, Fort Madison possesses inherent strengths and opportunities that could be leveraged to overcome these obstacles and enhance its overall condition. The city’s rich history, vibrant culture, strategic location, and untapped potential serve as promising elements.

It is imperative that Fort Madison garners increased attention, support, and investment from its residents, leaders, and partners. By collectively working towards improvement, the city has the potential to transform into a more desirable place to live, work, and visit.