The United States obtained the land that would eventually become the state of Iowa in 1803 as part of the Louisiana Purchase. During its first years of existence, it would be called the Iowa Indian Territory with the Meskwaki and Sauk tribes dominating the region. Settlers from Illinois came into conflict with the tribes, eventually displacing everyone by 1852. Iowa would become a state in 1846.
Iowa City would become the first capital of the new state, but that designation transferred to Des Moines because of its central location in 1857. Large numbers of European settlers came to the area to take advantage of the extensive farmland, which helped to develop the railroad infrastructure in the area.
The economy of Iowa almost collapsed in the 1930s, which led to the current structure of subsidies that paid farmers to stop planting their fields. This process allowed the farms to recover as the soils stabilized, allowing the state to continue being one of the biggest agrarian economies in the world.
There are several pros and cons of living in Iowa to consider if you’re thinking about relocating to this state in the near future.
List of the Pros of Living in Iowa
1. Iowa offers a lower cost of living than most other states.
If you start living in Iowa, then you’ll find that the cost of living throughout the state is about 10% lower than what you’ll find across the United States. You’ll lose some of this benefit if you want to live in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, or Dubuque, but it applies throughout most other communities. Many small towns in the state support farming communities, so you will find that housing and other expenses are significantly lower.
The Davenport and Bettendorf metro area in Iowa was once named as the most affordable metropolitan region in the United States.
2. You can afford to buy a house when living in Iowa.
The average listing price for a single-family home in Iowa is well under $200,000 per property in most communities. If you’re willing to live in a rural area of the state, then you can easily pick up a 2,000 square foot home for less than $100,000. Some of the communities have properties with a lot of land on them for you to use. The cost profile that you’ll find with this advantage is the second-best in the country.
If you’re not in the market to purchase a house right now, then rental costs are still extremely competitive. Most communities, including Des Moines and Iowa City, have apartments for less than $1,000 per month – including 2-bedroom options.
3. The educational system in Iowa is one of the best in the country.
The literacy rate in Iowa stands at 99%. That makes it the highest in the United States. The state also has the highest graduation rate from high school in the country at 90%. You will also find that the communities here rank consistently high on ACT and SAT scores. There aren’t as many opportunities to go to the beach or take a hike in the mountains since this is a farmland state, but the compromises you make for this advantage can give your children an advantage for their future career.
Adults can take advantage of three world-class universities in the state. The University of Iowa, Iowa State, and Northern Iowa all provide numerous programs that can lead you toward the career you want. Smaller schools like Mount Mercy University and Luther also offer another layer of variety to consider.
4. The crime rate in Iowa is surprisingly low.
Although you will encounter problems with drug use and distribution in Iowa (especially meth), the overall crime rate is one of the lowest in the United States. The statistics vary annually, but the state is almost always in the top 10 safest places to live. Violent crime is very low here, with America’s second-lowest murder rate from state-based statistics. If you’re tired of all of the stories of mass shootings and similar acts, they are almost non-existent here.
5. Iowa allows you to experience all four seasons.
The weather is never boring when you start living in Iowa. What makes it such a magical experience is the variety that the four seasons provide. Many of the trees will come out to bloom in the spring before turning into a river of green that stretches for as far as the eye can see. When autumn comes along, you’ll see fiery colors throughout the state. Taking a tour of the Mississippi route is one of the best fall color tours in the country. Then you have opportunities to enjoy snow in the winter most years.
6. Traffic problems are almost non-existent in Iowa.
Unless you live in Des Moines and need to travel through the downtown corridor, traffic problems are almost non-existent in Iowa. There are rarely traffic jams to worry about here, even when you find yourself traveling on the Interstate system. Most communities offer the Smalltown USA experience, which means you’ll find people waving to you when you drive by. Even if they don’t know you, the fact that you’re there means you know someone or have a purpose that helps the town, so you’ll see friendly faces everywhere.
It will still take you some time to travel to each destination since the distances are greater in Iowa than along the East Coast, but it is a leisurely journey that lets you enjoy the sights along the way.
7. Retirement options are numerous when you live in Iowa.
Because of the cost benefits of moving to Iowa and your access to excellent healthcare options, the state is ranked as the second-best place to retire in the country. The only other state that beats it is Hawaii. You won’t get to spend long days at ocean beaches with this landlocked state, but you can still have a boat and enjoy the lakes that dot the area. There are plenty of historic places to visit, with weekend stops to the various towns providing years of enjoyment without being overly expensive.
8. Des Moines was named the wealthiest city in the United States.
The culture of Des Moines is unique. You have the modern urban center that feels like New York City or LA, suburbs that give you a glimpse of the friendly nature of the state, and rural homes that let you enjoy the farming emphasis. This combination of factors led the capitol to be once named as the wealthiest city in the United States.
Although wages are lower here than in other parts of the country, the cost of living is even lower, so you can still save some cash when living in Iowa.
9. Cycling is a way of life when you live in Iowa.
One of the most popular annual events that you’ll discover when living in Iowa is called RAGBRAI. It is a cycling tour that goes from one end of the state to the other over a week. It’s the largest event of its type in the world where anyone can join in on this giant party. You’ll find RVs, buses, and families packing into vehicles to follow the route in a caravan that stretches for miles.
You will find people riding bicycles in many small towns since it is just as easy to use that form of transportation to go a few blocks. Local needs are often handled this way, with vehicles reserved for large grocery trips or going to the town with the closest movie theater.
10. Football is taken seriously in Iowa – more than most people realize.
If you are a native Iowan, then you’re either a Hawkeyes or Cyclones fan. There is no in-between when you start talking collegiate football – sorry Northern Iowa fans. The Cy-Hawk Series football game is fun, but it gets intense. If you find yourself on the wrong side of this rivalry, it has been known to ruin relationships, destroy friendships, and cause its fair share of divorces – seriously. If you’re new to this aspect of life in Iowa, then it might be helpful to remain neutral. Choosing the wrong side might even “unofficially” impact your employment.
11. You can go mushroom hunting in Iowa.
People love to go hunting in Iowa. Each season has its own emphasis, and deer season in the fall can get competitive. When the spring months come around, you’re going to find lots of people hunting morel mushrooms instead. It is a staple of the local diet before summer comes around, with numerous restaurants offering them on their menu. Some entrepreneurs have started growing them for year-round availability, but any “serious” connoisseur of this delectable treat will tell you that nothing is better than what grows in the wild.
12. If you love dairy products, then you’re going to appreciate Iowa.
The ice cream capital of the world is located in Iowa. Le Mars is the home to the Wells Dairy, which is the founder of the Blue Bunny brand of treats. You can come here to get a chocolate-dipped cone, enjoy a walk along the water, and have a relaxing experience. Most communities have a dairy that supplies local treats like cheese curds, specialty milks, and other delicacies that will have you coming back for more. Each one also makes a special style of cheese that you can’t find anywhere else. Outside of Wisconsin, you’ll find more cheesemaker masters here.
List of the Cons of Living in Iowa
1. You have zero access to professional sports in Iowa.
The Chicago Cubs have a Triple-A minor league affiliate in Iowa. There are some semi-pro teams that regularly compete in the state. Cedar Rapids has a Single-A baseball team. If you enjoy going to stadiums to see professional teams compete in the Big 5 leagues (NBA, MLB, NFL, NHL, MLS), then you will need to travel to Chicago, Milwaukee, Kansas City, St. Louis, or the Minneapolis/St. Paul area to satisfy that craving.
That means you could be traveling 5-7 hours one way to take in a game. That means you have a substantial time and monetary commitment to consider when you start living in Iowa.
2. If you’re a beach or mountain person, you’ll find yourself disappointed.
If you love being in the mountains, then Iowa is going to leave you feeling disappointed. Most of the highest points in the state are along the Mississippi River. Hawkeye Point is the highest natural summit in the state, rising to just 1,670 feet. The high ground is fittingly 100 feet south of an old silo.
As for beaches, the best option you have is Big Creek State Park in Des Moines. There is plenty of sand for you to enjoy with some shoreline to tour along the lake. Shelters and a playground are available on the grounds for you to enjoy. Your other choice is Okoboji, offering lakeside dining, camping opportunities, and an amusement park to enjoy.
3. Winters get really cold in Iowa some years.
If you talk to a native Iowan, they’ll tell you that the threat of a mosquito disappears in winter because nothing can withstand the cold that happens some years. The weather can reach -50°F in January some years when the wind chill factor is taken into account. The lowest temperature ever recorded in the state was -47°F in 1912 in Washta, which is in the northwest corner.
4. Not every place in Iowa has a low crime rate or a thriving economy.
Keokuk regularly ranks as one of the worst places to live in Iowa. The unemployment rate is regularly above 10%, and it is usually double that of the national media. You can purchase a home for less than $65,000 here, but that’s because there isn’t a lot of demand. The town also ranks first for its rate of crime.
You also have places like Centerville where the only option you have for entertainment is a Walmart. The median income for the town is only $31,000 per year.
5. It takes time to get to your intended destination.
Unless you live in Des Moines, Waterloo, or Cedar Rapids, the time you spend in your car is usually measured in hours. That includes making your way to a Walmart if you live in one of the state’s small towns. You’re going to be shopping at locally-owned grocery stores, mom-and-pop businesses, or shipping items to your home. You might even need to plan a short road trip to get fuel for your vehicle.
If you live in the northwestern part of Iowa, you might find yourself needing to drive all of the way to Sioux City, Omaha, or Des Moines to have some of your needs met. When you live in that region, there are only two-lane highways to take you where you need to go, so that adds even more time to your journey.
6. The culinary scene in Iowa is best described as “rustic.”
Outside of a few ethnic places in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, and Des Moines, you’re going to find your food options in Iowa are closer to what you’d find at a diner. The one contribution that the state made to the American culinary scene is the Maid-Rite sandwich. If you’ve eaten a Sloppy Joe, then you’ve had this sandwich. It’s made from ground beef and ketchup. Then you can add toppings like cheese, onions, and mustard to create a custom eating experience.
What many people don’t realize is that the serving concepts developed by the inventor of the Maid-Rite sandwich are what most fast-food establishments still use today.
7. Iowans take their politics seriously.
The Iowa Caucuses are held all over the state every four years. These events mark the beginning of the election cycle, so presidential candidates flood the state to host town halls and small meetings with potential voters. It might be the only place in the country where you can share a corn dog with the future leader of the free world, but this structure also means you have an extended political season. Ads flood the airwaves up to two years in advance of the next presidential election.
Almost every Iowan that has lived in the state for at least 10 years has had a presidential candidate shake their hand, kiss their baby, or shared a cup of coffee with some conversation.
Iowa tends to be a place where life moves at a slower pace. The emphasis is on the rural farming communities and supporting them, with some metro areas creating job opportunities for those who prefer to wear suits instead of overalls. There are some excellent healthcare employment options in the state, and Mount Mercy University is one of the best nursing schools in the world.
If you want entertainment, Iowa doesn’t have much to offer outside of its urban areas. That’s why the Iowa State Fair is so popular.
The pros and cons of living in Iowa show that it can be a safe and fun place to raise a family. There are opportunities for most households to carve out a good living. It is a beautiful state where you can see rivers, farmland, and prairies all on a day trip.
Blog Post Author Credentials
Louise Gaille is the author of this post. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Louise has almost a decade of experience in Banking and Finance. If you have any suggestions on how to make this post better, then go here to contact our team.