March 13th, 2014
10:00 AM ET
7 years 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.

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“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. Reggie53

    Ryan did not state "black" in his comments. He said people living in inner cities....are you telling me that only black people live in inner cities? Here goes the democrats and their racial nonsense again. Then I will say to my black do not think too much of yourselves if you feel that only blacks live in the inner cities. You better get some ambition in your lives....because I did and I do not live in the cinner cities. The democrat party is responsible for keeping our black people in the inner cities with the government freebies instead of giving them jobs. And not affirmative action jobs get the job you are qualified for and not what affirmative actions says you should get. They should be encouraging you to stay in school and get a good education instead of giving you that monthly government check. The democrats are keeping us black people poor and that is why I do not support them. I am a proud republican and I am out of the inner cities. My people had better smarten up and get a hold of their lives. This is another form of slavery being handed out by the democrat party.

    March 13, 2014 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  2. cacique

    A Spike Lee, republican

    March 13, 2014 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  3. DC Johnny

    Interesting that Obama made nearly the identical statements and was applauded for his honest look into the black community.

    And here come all the libs, ready to pounce on a white person for making the same appraisal, and honestly looking to make a change by fixing programs proven to fail.

    Shame on all of you hypocrites.

    March 13, 2014 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  4. ronnie todd

    This issue will not go away as long as the Feds provide what is perceived as a cash incentive (WIC) that increases the number of single parent homes.

    March 13, 2014 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  5. VOS

    Finally, someone has the balls to call a spade a spade. Democrats and liberals like to bury their head in the sand but Ryan's comments are the truth. But the inner-city is where democratic votes come from so they defend this culture of slacking and allowing these people to continue sucking the government milk so they don't have to work. A time honored tradition that is surely not to end anytime soon.

    March 13, 2014 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  6. Fur Ball

    Leigh, Please get a job where you don't have to write.

    "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."

    March 13, 2014 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  7. DrCole

    So let's look at this... Are the test scores of kids from "inner cities" lower than suburban kids???...yes. Are they down generation after generation???...yes. Is this a problem???...yes. Did Ryan identify this problem???...yes. Did Ryan say that their genetics were the cause of their problem??? Did he say that there is no hope for "inner city kids" He was honest. I am a high school chemistry teacher...I can tell you that there is a BIG problem. If we do not change the culture that the kids are a part of, it will continue to get worse. These teenagers need to be helped to see how important education is...they need to get the support to get sleep, food, reduce stress, learn how to study, do math, read, work, etc. So many kids in the "inner cities" don't have 2 parents at home...either a single parent or both parents have to work so much, neither are home. This is a problem. How can a teenager be expected to study and take part in their own education if there is no support at home or in their reality. If this happens to too many generations, their is an almost unmovable force against prosperity that is present.

    This is what Ryan was talking's not a racist thing. It's the same thing that Obama was was saying a few weeks ago. Bill Cosby has been saying it for over 2 decades. The only difference was that it was a Republican that said it this must be a racist comment...according to Democrats.

    March 13, 2014 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  8. Duke

    Citing a racist for support of his position, using all the Repub code words for "black", sure you understand poverty in America. and taxedmore, you are just as bad as he is.

    March 13, 2014 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  9. bob

    Considering how little congressman work, that's the pot calling the kettle black

    March 13, 2014 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  10. DaveinJersey

    Here we have the hypocritical lying leftist fools trying to make a big deal over an 'inner city comment' when Dope Joe Biden and even Dumbama himself have made way more racist comments. But the leftist Kool-aid drinking non-intellectual libtarts only believe what they are told by the CNN propaganda false news agency.

    March 13, 2014 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  11. Javier

    In the 1970's, they halted clinical studies that started analyzing IQ's, brain scans, etc by ethnicity in fear of what they might discover and with concern that it would lead to ethnic prejudice if statistics showed certain ethnicity's are less intelligent than others. The clinical studies would be easy but the study itself is forbidden.
    So what exactly is the reason for 80% of the crime and ongoing welfare coming from the same group of people over and over again for years and generations?
    Why is it certain minorities, such as Asians, have thrived in education and commerce even though they faced bigger roadblocks related to language and culture than African Americans?

    March 13, 2014 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  12. Anthony

    maybe he was just referring to the culture of work in the the Inner city of Washington DC. primarily at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and the United States Capital,

    March 13, 2014 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  13. DB

    Who do you think you're fooling, Paul?

    You were pandering to racists. You may have been smart enough not to actually say "black people are lazy and want the government to solve all their problems for them at the expense of hard working middle class whites," but we all know that's exactly what you meant and you must think the American people are incredibly stupid if you think anybody is going to believe this spin control.

    March 13, 2014 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  14. Fair is Fair


    Going strictly by the numbers, there are more white people on welfare than black people.
    Well, yes... that's true. But you really can't look at gross numbers, since there are far more whites in the USA than there are blacks. According to data available in the public domain, 38.8% of welfare recipients are white, while 39.8% are black. The top 10 states as far as "hourly wage equivalent" for welfare ranges from a high of $17.50 per hour for Hawaii and $11.11 for Virginia. 9 of those 10 states are reliably blue, Alaska being the exception.

    March 13, 2014 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  15. Tony Z

    America has a very serious problem. Most who complain about the inner cities don't live there nor really understand the problems. Majority of the poverty are in states that vote Republican. Where is most of the welfare money going? The brother's keeper initiative is trying to turn back the assault on people of color. When you don't fund education equally but expect the same result.

    We talk about drugs. Who is the inner city owns planes? Crack and cocaine are not equal.

    Lets get real. The problem in America is systematic racism.

    March 13, 2014 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  16. Big_D

    Ryan should come out with what the GOP thinks for real. Black people are lazy is what they think. They are sick and wrong but they have danced around it long enough. I think the disrespectful GOP should be dead but apparently they represent people that think like them. The only time they sugar coat it is in the general public. Ted Nugent style comments are the norm not the exception in the GOP, they are just not honest about it.

    March 13, 2014 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  17. Nursehope

    taxedmore: WHY did the persons you refer to "decide" to drop out/keep pregnancies, etc.? What went terrible wrong with their upbringing that placed them on that path? Childhood diabetes is prevalent in our culture. Why did these kids decide to over eat and not exercise to maintain a healthy body? What has gone wrong in their lives? Finding and fixing the underlying cause is the only solution. Stupid and irresponsible? How about tobacco addicts? You are paying for their bad choice via high insurance premiums and high healthcare costs. Are you OK with that?

    March 13, 2014 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  18. Eagle Beagle

    395 years...that's how long it has been...and so you will know that America was built on race, greed, and eradicate these would be the total destruction of America...Why do you think that drugs are so prevalent in American society?...we try to shadow ourselves from the real truth...the probem exists and there's nothing we can do about is matter what political party addresses the issue the problem remains and it only takes a divine intervention to fix it...

    March 13, 2014 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  19. Marc L

    While referencing a controversial author might not have been wise, Ryan didn't say anything that is not true. Admittedly, I haven't heard the rest of this interview, so I base my words off of this article, but it is a fact that there is a cycle of poverty in the inner cities. Now, whether you want to make that into a racial thing is up to you based on your sensitivities, but numbers are facts, and facts are the truth. Combating that cycle is up for argument, but it is fact that there is a cycle and a culture of poverty, and that culture passes down a mindset from generation to generation that feeds the cycle. This has been well documented. The only reason this interview is getting any attention is because Ryan is white and the democrats see him as a threat in the next election.

    March 13, 2014 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  20. Kyle

    The Congressman is right in a lot of ways. Our culture to a point is lazy, lack ambition and are used to having others take care of them. The GOP wants to people to take responsibility and make your life. The Dems want to buy the votes through handouts. The Dems have good intentions they don't want people living in poverty and I can't blame them for wanting to help. But the help the government gives should help people help themselves. Due to the thought process on gov't today, people don't want to hear this. One of the reasons why GOP will be the minority. Being right and honest won't always get you elected.

    March 13, 2014 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  21. Hillary

    And Ryan wonders why he couldn't carry his own state in the last election.

    March 13, 2014 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  22. Tracy

    @ Anonymous

    "I wonder why he did not address the poverty in rural Kentucky or West Virginia"

    That isn't where Washington CONTINUES to send billions of dollars every year. Get it?

    March 13, 2014 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  23. J-Man

    It is sickening that telling the truth is now controversial. I'm over the fact that everything is now racist. That is the new joke. You are racist. You eat cheeseburgers, you are a racist. You drive a car, you are racist.

    March 13, 2014 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  24. Jim Brody

    "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... ' (I assume "Paul" is referring to Ryan) This Woodson guy sounds pretty rational for someone who was afilliated with the AEI. Woodson is basically saying that what Ryan said about culture and the inner city is correct, but that he is undercutting his own message by channeling conservative "scholars" who are basically racist (e.g., Murray, Limbaugh, Beck, etc.)

    March 13, 2014 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  25. bcrunner

    @taxedmore: First, the issues you are mentioning happen in rural America as well... it's just those areas are not densly populated. Don't forget there are more whites percentage wise on welfare... However, you guys are against raising the minimum wage that would bring more people out of poverty, you are against family planning and the Affordable Care Act for those very same people. And, God forbid if we ask the insurance to cover contraception. You see, if these people had access to healthcare and family planning, maybe we would have less people depended on the government and your tax dollars. Yes, it starts at the home... So, how about better sex education and not spend millions and millions of dollars on abstinence education for starters that has shown not to work...

    March 13, 2014 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
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