March 13th, 2014
10:00 AM ET
7 months ago

Ryan's 'inner city' comments sparking backlash

Washington (CNN) - Rep. Paul Ryan said comments he made on a conservative radio program about people in inner cities not valuing the “culture of work” were “inarticulate.”

“I was not implicating the culture of one community-but of society as a whole,” Ryan said in a statement after fellow members of Congress pounced on his comments as being offensive and tinged with racism.

“The broader point I was trying to make is that we cannot settle for this status quo and that government and families have to do more and rethink our approach to fighting poverty,” Ryan said Thursday morning, one day after he made his controversial statements.

On Bill Bennett’s Morning in America program Wednesday, Ryan, who has become involved in the issue of poverty over the last year and a half, told Bennett there is a “tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work.”

“So there’s a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with,” added the House Budget Committee chairman and 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee.

In the radio interview, Ryan also referenced conservative author, American Enterprise Institute scholar, and self-described “right-wing ideologue,” Charles Murray, who wrote the controversial book “The Bell Curve,” which claims that black people have inferior intelligence and is the reason for social disadvantages.

“Your buddy Charles Murray or Bob Putnam over at Harvard – those guys have written books on this, which is – we have got this tailspin of culture,” Ryan said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office sent out an alert to reporters, calling his statements “shameful and wrong.”

Representative Barbara Lee of California took offense to Ryan’s statement. She put out a news release that said, “My colleague Congressman Ryan’s comments about ‘inner city’ poverty are a thinly veiled racial attack and cannot be tolerated. Let’s be clear, when Mr. Ryan says ‘inner city,’ when he says, ‘culture,’ these are simply code words for what he really means: ‘black.’”

“Mr. Ryan should step up and produce some legitimate proposals on how to tackle poverty and racial discrimination in America,” Lee added.

Ryan called Lee, also a member of the Budget Committee, Wednesday to discuss the issue.

Ryan’s remarks come a week after he released a report on poverty , where he analyzed 92 federal anti-poverty programs, concluding that are a confusing patchwork of often ineffective prescriptions to combating policy.

On Bennett’s radio program, Ryan, who's considering a bid for the 2016 GOP nomination, said beating poverty is not the job of government and called on people “to get involved” through non-profits or religious charities.

Ryan has embarked on a series of listening and learning tours of inner city poverty with Bob Woodson, the head of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, an organization that works with people on the outskirts of society.

Woodson, who is a former scholar at AEI, said Paul needs to stop listening to conservative scholars on the issue of poverty because their rhetoric “seeps into his speeches.”

“The only thing they are passionate about is the failures of the poor,” Woodson said, adding that Ryan should instead tell the stories of the people he’s met in the past year.

In Ryan's Wednesday radio interview, he discussed some of the same issues that President Barack Obama brought up late last month at an event at the White House,  where he announced "My Brother's Keeper" , a new initiative to help minority young men and boys succeed.

"No excuses. Government, and private sector, and philanthropy, and all the faith communities, we all have a responsibility to help provide you the tools you need. We've got to help you knock down some of the barriers that you experience," the President said. "But you've got responsibilities too."


Filed under: Paul Ryan
soundoff (371 Responses)
  1. Jerry

    We are not talking just poverty here. we are talking about people that scam the system and make a concerted effort to live on welfare. If the Dems and Libs truly wanted to solve this problem they would put discipline back in the schools and make education an advantage for people, not just make welfare easier than working.

    March 13, 2014 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  2. mikeinthevine

    The only answer to inner city poverty are more tax cuts for the rich and corporations. That's the republicans answer to everything.

    March 13, 2014 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  3. O'drama ya Mama

    Wake Up And Smell The Coffee

    When a politician actually speaks the truth, you crucify him.

    Very simply, most inner city youth wont finish high school, as a result they should be required to learn a vocation/job skill of their interest and the govt should offer these classes free of charge in every major city. There are many teenagers that don't flourish in a standard class, that would flourish and be interested in a vocation.
    Teach them how to fish.....idiots!
    March 13, 2014 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
    _________________________________________________________________________________________________

    You're correct. The problem is the Democrats have been trying to tackle this issue for the last 5 years and Republicans said the Democrats are using handouts to attract votes, taking from the tax payers, etc. Oh sure, when a Republican does it you call it being responsible and creating opportunity for the citizens. The only difference here is that the Democrats dont insult the people they claim to want to help.

    March 13, 2014 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  4. Mark

    The problem isn't an IQ deficit, it's cultural barriers to being successful in school. Don't pretend that those barriers don't exist. The same barriers, by the way, exist in white lower class areas.

    March 13, 2014 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  5. Justin

    "Peter – So how does this fool explain the fact that my two best and smartest software engineers are black?"

    He never said anything about black, people just inferred. Did your two best engineers grow up in the inner city? Did they grow up with both parents? Either way, your statement is anecdotal. I think most people, in both parties, would agree that the government can only take people so far, and that some of the responsibility for how your life turns out depends on the support of your family and community.

    March 13, 2014 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  6. Bobilino

    How dare he point out the obvious fact that in general whites are more educated than black people and that inner cities have cultural problems that result in gun violence in drug dealing. If that's a controversial statement I'd love to know where you live because it sure as heck aint America. Ignoring obvious realities like this for the sake of political correctness is one of the main reasons the problems don't get fixed. This is like calling someone who points out the fact that busing was a colossal and misguided failure a racist.

    March 13, 2014 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  7. Tom Bukowski

    Saying he uses the writings of Murray as a resource immediately disqualifies him. This ilk is the best the GOP is willing to offer? What's next, eugenics?

    March 13, 2014 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  8. Pam

    The new GOP daily activity: Open mouth. Insert foot.

    (and the GOP still wonders why they are perceived as 'out of touch with mainstream America'. This is one fine example of that mis-connect)

    March 13, 2014 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  9. Bart

    @Darrell:"Grandeous"?

    March 13, 2014 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  10. Jerry

    People of color CAN get ahead but they have to be willing to work for it, not expect it...
    We have a lot of Black entrpaneurers in this country but it was NOT GIVEN TO THEM... Just ask them...

    March 13, 2014 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  11. What's Wrong With Ryan's Statement

    It's odd how Mr. Ryan makes these statements and all of a sudden they are racist, yet when President Obama makes similar statements they are seen as legitimate concerns that need to be addressed. Google for the transcript from Obama's Father Day remarks made in 2008 at the Apostolic Church. Here is a key segment:

    You and I know how true this is in the African-American community. We know that more than half of all black children live in single-parent households, a number that has doubled – doubled – since we were children. We know the statistics – that children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and twenty times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioral problems, or run away from home, or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it.

    So because Ryan calls it a "tailspin of culture" he is a racist, yet Obama makes valid points. We are creating a cycle of entitlement that breeds in inner city homes across America.

    March 13, 2014 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  12. j williamson

    The bottom line is the black inner-city culture which glorifies a "gangsta" life-style is a one-way ticket to jail or an early death. Black men have the highest unemployment rate simply because a large percentage are unemployable – if one can't read, write, or speak proper English why should any employer want to hire them? Trillions of dollars (yes, that's with a "T") have been spent trying to bring blacks into the main-steam since the early 1960's (including the most ridiculous social experiment of all time – forced school bussing) and it has made little or no difference. Change for black America can only come from within – government has tried and failed. Stop taking offense and pointing fingers – that won't work either.

    March 13, 2014 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  13. GreyMan

    Going strictly by the numbers, there are more white people on welfare than black people.

    March 13, 2014 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  14. Brad Ster

    Every word Ryan said is 100% true. The MAJORITY of the inner city Black residents are of limited usefulness to society in general. They are disproportionately takers of resources, not producers. Some "communities" need to look inward to solve their issues and stop constantly blaming others for their failures. Sometimes the truth stings and is not PC. Oh well, it needs to be said.

    March 13, 2014 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  15. brian

    It is not about RACE it is about UNEMPLOYMENT.

    Poor Whites face the SAME problems as poor Blacks but instead of attacking corporate America for taking jobs over seas it is easier to make this a 'race' issue and have Blacks and Whites (BOTH VICTIMS) at each other's throats.

    Again Ryan creates a smokescreen for the private sector while the public gets left with NOTHING useful or tangible.
    He purposely opens the flood gates for bigoted comments and defensive responses INSTEAD OF looking at his puppet masters who would rather get virtual slave labor in India or south east Asia than to pay a livable wage to ANYONE OF ANY COLOR HERE IN THE USA.

    March 13, 2014 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  16. Me

    Ryan sounds just like Mitt did; and a guess says he'll have the same results

    March 13, 2014 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  17. pauleky

    Racism from a Republican. I'm shocked – SHOCKED, I tell you. Please – this is their bread and butter. They appeal to the lowest common denominator, but lately they've been electing the lowest common denominator.

    March 13, 2014 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  18. ShawnDH

    The remarks about the cultural problems in the "inner city" are not terrible. There ARE cultural problems in the inner city. But referencing a eugenics type "right-wing ideologue" is disgusting.

    Intelligence is not determined my skin melanin or facial features. That is ludicrous.

    March 13, 2014 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  19. Pard

    Detroit – 82% black. Mayor- black. Near bankruptcy. Ryan is right. As Lyndon Johnson the great liberal democratic president said regarding welfare "I'll have those niggers voting Democratic for the next 200 years". – his quote not mine. It's all about votes and keeping the Marxist progressive liberal democrats in power.

    March 13, 2014 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  20. The Real Tom Paine

    Wake Up And Smell The Coffee

    When a politician actually speaks the truth, you crucify him.

    Very simply, most inner city youth wont finish high school, as a result they should be required to learn a vocation/job skill of their interest and the govt should offer these classes free of charge in every major city. There are many teenagers that don't flourish in a standard class, that would flourish and be interested in a vocation.
    Teach them how to fish.....idiots!

    Give them a stream with fish so they have a shot.

    March 13, 2014 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  21. timtimcharoo

    @kd – the "truth" is that rural whites in the south make up a majority of the poverty and welfare in this country

    March 13, 2014 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  22. EB

    another case of political opponents putting words in their opponents mouth that were not said for headlines. the subject was of the inner city culture, not black. inner city and culture represent a group, inclusive of everyone in that group, including White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, etc etc etc. This sort of mindless banter has to stop. Its like the bickering of a bitter ongoing divorce battle.

    March 13, 2014 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  23. Anonymous

    WOW, Mr Ryan's ignorance is only exceeded by his arrogance. To make a smug race baiting statement like this is outrageous, but sadly becoming the norm for conservative politicians. Ryan, like so many of his conservative bethern, is playing to his base in a most repugnant manner, by denigrating those who are different from him. I wonder why he did not address the poverty in rural Kentucky or West Virginia. These are also areas of low educational and economic achievement. But the people are mostly white. And the Republicans wonder why minorities are running from them as fast as possible. Mr Ryan may be in a safely conservative district, but this demonstrates that he has no chance of suceeding on a national level.

    March 13, 2014 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  24. Candy Kaine

    He's right!

    March 13, 2014 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  25. John Illinois

    Get serious and quit denying reality liberals! There has been Trillions of dollars poured into the the so-called "inner cities" and it has basically all been a waste of our money! Many of them refuse to work, crime rates are higher than every other area and they think someone owes them something; no one owes them anything! I would say that IS a culture problem. They also need to learn to behave and follow the law!

    March 13, 2014 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
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