Lowest-Rated Small Cities in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois


There's something of a trend toward smaller cities which has taken hold across the nation.  Small city life has become more desirable as people seek escape from major city problems and find themselves less tied physically to major metropolitan areas.

Communities with smaller populations and advantages like lower housing costs, shorter drive times, and lower crime rates have become more attractive places to live and raise families.  Some small cities punch way beyond their weight class in terms of offerings.  Others though, let's face it, just kinda suck.

Wallethub issued a report this week ranking more than 1300 small cities across the U.S. The study rated cities based on scores in these areas; affordability, economic health, education & health, quality of life, and safety.  For details on the metrics used and the full list of city rankings, see: wallethub.com/edu/best-worst-small-cities.

There are plenty of towns in our part of the Midwest which find themselves ranked toward the bottom of the list.  Here's a look at the lowest-scoring small cities in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois.

Iowa's Worst Small Cities

Image: Wikimedia Commons
Image: Wikimedia Commons

#3, Waterloo  

Incorporated: 1868    Population: 67, 314

Slogan: "Cedar Falls is nice."

The Avenue of the Saints (Interstate 380) connects with US 20 there, and highways 63 and 218 also go through town #890, yet rather than use one of these roads to leave, more than 67,000 Waterluvians stick around.  Home to legendary Iowa Hawkeyes Dan Gable and Reggie Robey, serial killer John Wayne Gacy also once called Waterloo home.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

#2, Clinton

Incorporated: 1857    Population: 24,469

Slogan: "Mayflies don't stink too bad come winter."

A Mississippi River town is in Iowa's bottom three.  Clinton ranks 958th overall.  Legendary Iowa Hawkeye Duke Slater played high school football there, and The Lincoln Highway (U.S. 30) crosses the river at Clinton to a point just south of Fulton, IL.  In other words, Clinton has a bridge to nowhere.  That may partly explain why the people there haven't all left.   A visit on The Great River Road proves Clinton looks great in a rearview mirror.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

#1, Council Bluffs

Incorporated: 1853    Population: 62,799

Slogan: "Come for the casinos. Stay for the mosquitoes."

The largest city in southwest Iowa ranks lowest of all small cities in the state.  The Missouri River town of Council Bluffs was rated #1114 overall.  Among its many challenges, the city has battled problems with such trivial matters as clean air and clean water.  Are you at all surprised that a stream called Mosquito Creek runs through this town?  While this Wallethub study rates the city poorly in nearly all areas, Council Bluffs' low safety score pulled its ranking to last place in Iowa.

The Worst Small Cities in Wisconsin

Image: Wikimedia Commons

#3, Racine

Incorporated: 1841    Population: 78,860

Slogan: "Birthplace of the Malted Milk Ball, 'death-place' of your soul."

Several large industries including S.C. Johnson & Son and  J.I. Case call Racine home, and the place where Little Golden Books were first published can't be all bad.  Although one publication named Racine "the most affordable place to live in the world" less than five years ago, Wallethub rates its affordability in the bottom half of small cities studied.  The people of Racine are referred to as "Racinians" which is kinda cool, but that might be the best thing about living in the city rated #814.

Image: Wikimedia Commons
Image: Wikimedia Commons

#2, Beloit

Incorporated: 1846    Population: 36,966

Slogan: "Gateway to scenic Turtle."

Number two on the worst in Wisconsin list seems an appropriate place for Beloit, as the sound of the city's name is similar to the sound of something being dropped into a toilet.  A testament to the relatively high life quality in Wisconsin, the state's second-lowest ranked city is at a less-than-awful #899.  Named an All-American City as recently as 1971, Beloit produced rock singers Betty Everett and Robin Zander, and racing's Danica Patrick.  Prepare to hear a lot of Interstate highway noise if you visit.  I-90, I-43, and I-39 all handle traffic there.

Image: Google
Image: Google

#1, West Allis

Incorporated: 1906    Population: 60,411

Slogan: "Where the hell is Allis?"

The lowest-ranked small city in Wisconsin hosts the Wisconsin State Fair, inviting Wisconsinites statewide to enjoy its charms annually.  Ranked # 934 overall, this city also welcomes throngs of wintertime guests who drive Candy Cane Lane each December to admire the elaborate holiday displays.  I've been unable to learn an established demonym for the people of West Allis, but it would be a real shame if they didn't call themselves "West Allisons."

The Worst Small Cities in Illinois


#3, East St. Louis

Incorporated: 1865    Population: 27,006

Slogan: "America's highest murder rate AND that river town smell."

Not all that surprisingly, the population of the city ranked #1283 overall has been dropping dramatically; falling from above 80,000 in the 1950s and '60s to its present 27,006.  The world's second-tallest geyser can be found in East St. Louis.  The Gateway Geyser shoots water to a height of 630 feet, equalling the height of the Gateway Arch across the Mississippi in St. Louis.  Looking out from the observation windows atop the arch you'll see it, right next to the grain elevator by a casino.  The force of the water shooting away from East St. Louis seems to symbolize the people moving away from the city.

Image: Wikimedia Commons
Image: Wikimedia Commons

#2, Kankakee

Incorporated: 1865    Population: 27,537

Slogan: "You'll learn to love our straight-from-the-river drinking water."

"Kankakee" is fun to say, "Kankakeean" even more so, but that's about the extent of the joy to be found there.  Rated  #1288, nearly 98 percent of cities in this study ranked higher overall.  As mentioned in the Steve Goodman song, Amtrak's "The City of New Orleans" pulls out of Kankakee daily.  Somehow though, rather than hop aboard, its residents choose to stay put.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

#1, Danville

Incorporated: 1867    Population: 33,027

Slogan: "DUCK!"

The lowest-rated small city in Illinois was also given the lowest score of any city covered in this article, #1308.  Only 14 cities in the country were rated lower.  Abraham Lincoln famously practiced law there in the 1840s and 50s.  The city that gave us Gene Hackman is now widely known for selling legal cannibas products in its location near the Indiana border on I-74.  While none of its scores were good, Danville's extremely low safety rating (only 15 small cities were rated less safe) pulled it to the lowest ranking in Illinois.

So there you have 'em.  The worst-ranked small cities in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois.  I'm sure there are lots of terrific people who live in every one of these towns, and many of them are proud of their cities.  Here's to hoping each city mentioned is able to find ways to meet its unique set of challenges and improve its ratings.

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P.S. By the way, Dubuque scored pretty well overall (#347, just outside the top 25 percent), it was in the middle of the pack (7th) among the 16 ranked cities in Iowa.




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