Populations in These 6 Iowa Counties Are Plummeting

flag of Iowa
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Written by Kyle Glatz

Published: October 4, 2023

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Iowa is not one of the largest states in the United States by area or population. In fact, the 2020 U.S. Census revealed that only 3,190,372 people live in the entire state. However, the population in this state is slowly growing, and 3,200,517 people now live in the Hawkeye State. Some Iowa counties are experiencing significant population losses. Today, we’re going to examine the counties in Iowa that have lost the most residents from 2020 to 2022.

By using the U.S. Census Bureau’s data on county population changes, we can see which parts of Iowa are shrinking.

6. Dubuque County

Mississippi River, Iowa, River, Wisconsin, Landscape - Scenery

The Mississippi River forms a border on the eastern side of Dubuque County.

©dangarneau/ via Getty Images

Population LostPercentage Lost

Dubuque County is in eastern Iowa, and its eastern border is along the Mississippi River. The largest city in this region is called Dubuque, and it has a population of almost 60,000 people.

The population in Dubuque County was 99,264 in 2020. However, the population had dropped to 98,677 people in July 2022. That means the population had dropped by 587 people or 0.6% of the population.

Looking at the small drop in population to start this list, it is clear that Iowa counties are not losing enormous numbers of residents. Instead, the population in many counties is rising, and only a few counties in the state lost more than 500 people in the last two years.

5. Des Moines County

Iowa countryside under dark clouds. Rolling fields of green crops with a green clearing reaching through the fields.

Des Moines County lost 1.6% of its population in two years.


Population LostPercentage Lost

Des Moines County is in southeastern Iowa. This county has a border with Illinois to its east along the Mississippi River. Burlington is the largest city in the area.  

The population in Des Moines County was initially 38,907 during the 2020 Census. However, the population in the region dropped by 614 individuals over the next two years. So, the population reached 38,293 people. That means this county lost 1.6% of its population over two years.

4. Cerro Gordo County

Clear Lake Iowa, Two kids sitting on dock

Clear Lake is the 7th largest lake in the state.


Population LostPercentage Lost

Cerro Gordo County is in northern Iowa. This area is home to one of the biggest lakes in Iowa, Clear Lake. Mason City is the region’s largest city, and it has a population of about 27,000 people.  

The 2020 Census found that Cerro Gordo County had a total population of 43,132. The population dropped to 42,409 people over the two years following the census. As a result, the area lost a total of 723 people during this time, and that number is equal to a 1.7% drop in population. So, Cerro Cordo is certainly one of the Iowa counties where populations are falling.  

3. Muscatine County

Upper Iowa River

The Cedar River flows through Muscatine County and joins the Iowa River.

©Dustin Bohlken/Shutterstock.com

Population LostPercentage Lost

Muscatine County is in southeastern Iowa, along the border with Illinois. The Cedar River flows through this county before it reaches its confluence with the Iowa River farther to the south. Muscatine is the largest city in this county, and it has a population of almost 24,000 people.

Muscatine County started 2020 with 43,242 residents inhabiting the area. The 2022 estimates for this region show that the area is home to 42,377 people. The population in this area dropped by 865 people or 2% of the total population. That is a fair number of people that have left the area in just two years, and the population loss accelerated between 2021 and 2022.

2. Black Hawk County

Photograph on Waterloo, Iowa downtown in black and white / Waterloo Iowa

Waterloo is the largest city in Black Hawk County.


Population LostPercentage Lost

Black Hawk County is home to the University of Northern Iowa, and its largest city is Waterloo. Waterloo has a population of 67,000 people, making it one of the 10 largest cities in the state.

The population in Black Hawk County was 131,147 back in 2020, making this one of the most populous counties. However, the number of residents in this area dropped between 2020 and 2022. The estimates for 2022 were that 130,274 people lived in the county. A total of 873 people left this part of the state, a total of 0.7% of the population.

1. Linn County

Cedar Rapids Skyline

Cedar Rapids in Linn County has a population of about 137,000 people.


Population LostPercentage Lost

Linn County is in eastern Iowa, and it is the second-most populous county in the state. Cedar Rapids is the largest city in the area, and it has a population of about 137,000 people.  

Linn County is another very large county in Iowa, and it’s also the leader in Iowa counties with falling populations. In 2020, 230,303 people occupied this area. However, only 229,033 people lived in this county by July 2022.

The population losses in these Iowa counties are somewhat small. In fact, they’re small enough that finding any significant trend is difficult. The state as a whole is experiencing a rising population. Polk County, the most populous in the state, increased its population by 8,678 people between 2020 and 2022.

So, one potential explanation for the population losses in parts of the state is that people are moving to places like Des Moines. The city is growing since it has a fair cost of living, good entertainment, economic opportunities, and universities. Interestingly, many of the largest cities in the U.S. experienced a population loss from 2020 to 2022. The next census should give us some insight into why people moved to mid-sized cities in states with middling to low populations like Des Moines.

Summary of the Iowa Counties with Plummeting Populations

RankCountyPopulation Lost
1.Linn County-1,270
2.Black Hawk County-873
3.Muscatine County-865
4.Cerro Gordo County-723
5.Des Moines County-614
6.Dubuque County-587

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About the Author

Kyle Glatz is a writer at A-Z-Animals where his primary focus is on geography and mammals. Kyle has been writing for researching and writing about animals and numerous other topics for 10 years, and he holds a Bachelor's Degree in English and Education from Rowan University. A resident of New Jersey, Kyle enjoys reading, writing, and playing video games.

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