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. Erik

    He could have addressed the issue more diplomatically and sympathetically but what Ryan said has been said, in different phrasing, from everybody from Obama to Martin Luther King (who once said that there was a moral breakdown in the urban black community as manifested by the crime rates). To pretend that the astronomical rates of non-marital births, young single mothers, young minority men dropping out of school, gangs, and violence is not a symptom of cultural breakdown, as well as an impediment to the economic advancement of the black community, is simply ignoring reality. Most of the people attacking his comments would not live in a poor black, urban neighborhood in a thousand years, or send their kids to an inner city school. So please, get real and address the issue in a constructive manner rather than take refuge in a self-serving political ideology of denial.

    March 13, 2014 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  2. The Taxman

    Fully agree with Ryan here. It is an Inner City problem – not a black problem, but a cultural problem with folks set up to fail and to blame others for their failure. The key is to take government out of the equation and let non-profits and churches help the poor in these communities. These folks need to take care of themselves, not be taken care of. It is the old Give a man a fish vs. Teach a man to fish routine. Help them learn to be self sufficient and not rely on our failed government programs that just keep them in poverty. You know if Pelosi is against it it MUST be correct!

    March 13, 2014 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  3. Mark P

    Next time a clueless senator from rural Wisconsin spouts off about culture, he'd better be talking about making cheese!

    March 13, 2014 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  4. ghostwriter

    I think what is missing here is that it is a cultural issue, but not a racial issue. Go to the suburbs and look at the black folks there. All the ills associated with the inner city are basically erased. Then look at white folks in the inner city. See any similarities?

    March 13, 2014 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  5. Ram


    Who's "demonizing" anyone? He said it's a problem that needs to be "dealt with". I didn't see anything in his comments quoted in the piece that would lead anyone to believe that he's saying "it's just fine to deny them any aid and walk away".

    You're projecting.

    March 13, 2014 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  6. yogi

    Republicans have made an art of disgust, not a week goes by and we hear another disgusting comment. Yesterday Boehner commented on the Republican House win in Florida while he was standing in front of a wall with the words "jobs" all over it, remember 2010? when this same man was screaming "jobs, jobs!", disgusting!

    March 13, 2014 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  7. Lynda/Minnesota

    What he said is the damn truth and everyone knows it.... why are people so sensitive about words?

    Which part of what he said is the damn truth in your opinion: that blacks have inferior intelligence thus are too lazy to understand the "need" to work; that children would prefer their lunch in a brown paper bag or go hungry by having no lunch at all; that we as a society should write these other people off and cut off their opportunities such as they are; or that we should as a society simply force "them" into charitable homeless lines and offer soup as it fits our giving conscience ... when it fits our conscience?

    Ryan is pointing his fingers in many directions. What he is not doing is offering solutions; jobs; opportunity; or humanity. Indeed. Little by little he is voting to cutting off solutions; jobs; opportunity; and humanity through his own gravely flawed ideology.

    March 13, 2014 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  8. Joel Speller

    The truth hurts, there is definitely a problem in the inner cities they are predominantly black, dangerous and falling apart. Even black people don't want to live there. You can't funnel money into the problem and expect it to get fixed. Where is this money going to come from? I don't want to pay for it. You have to address the issues even the painful ones and everyone is not going to go to college and live in the suburbs no matter how much money you throw at the problem. There are always going to be poor people, working people and rich people based on work ethic, and intelligence. I think people should be paid to work, if by a students early teens if they don't show an aptitude for further education they should be offered trade school, no work no pay.

    March 13, 2014 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  9. thebrohican

    People like Ryan have all of these opinions on people who aren't white and republican yet don't know anyone from the groups in which he is an expert, and has never been in the communities. Even if has a point, we can see where he has gotten his information, which is sadly the same way many Americans get their information.

    When Obama said it, it was "we", Ryan is pointing and saying "you people"

    America is segregated, we all know Ryan doesn't know anyone from the "inner city" but he can get away with talking like this since his constituents share similar views.

    March 13, 2014 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  10. Bill you have done it to one of the least of these, so have you done it to me!

    March 13, 2014 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  11. Amazing

    This must be the Nazi Germany Dr. Ben Carson mentioned yesterday. I guess there is no culture problem in the rural parts of America where similar conditions exist. To compound the error by quoting an idiot who believes in the superiority of the white race, is simply amazing. As an African American, his statements are insulting and thankfully does not represent the thinking of most Americans. I have friends of all races who are die hard Republicans who are becoming more ad more disillusioned with their party because of the real lack of intelligence from the "stars of the GOP"!

    March 13, 2014 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  12. mike

    Hey Chuck,

    Really? Seems RED states have better GPA's in both HS and College. Seems Blue states have higher drop out rates and higher crime rates. Red States tend to have lower teen pregnancy rates as well. Might want to do a bit of research prior to opening your mouth. BLUE states, however, do lead in welfare recipients, unwed mothers, unemployment rates and many other 'negative' aspects of civilization.

    March 13, 2014 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  13. American Citizen

    Double-Digit unemployment rate for Black Americans. Near 30% unemployment for Black youth. Sorry, Ryan was right on target.

    March 13, 2014 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  14. Shawn

    I love how people get offended by taking a comment as an absolute, as if he meant "all black men in the inner cities don't work". Who cares what he says? If you know it's not true, laugh at him. If you know it's true, help change it. But this anger over a comment is juvenille and seems to reveal your denial and/or true thoughts on the issue. They're just words people, but by all means, continue to champion knee-jerk reactions to race-baiting media disections.

    March 13, 2014 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  15. Anonymous

    Ryan is not blaming the inner city men because of color he is blaming the progressive failure and the black leaders who (many) have turned out to be nothing but crooks and worst of all delivers of democratic votes. Voting democrat for decades has been an outstanding scam.

    March 13, 2014 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  16. Big Ben

    So this comes from a man, who was a follower of atheist, Ayn Rand. Paul Ryan was born into a wealthy family with their own corporation. When Paul Ryan's father died, he was given his father's social security benefit for dependent children, as an allowance. This man thinks he is an expert on getting a job. Ha Ha Ha

    March 13, 2014 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  17. middleoftheroad

    I am so tired of politicians (this time Democrats) making comments like this more than they are. Ryan did not say African Americans were less intelligent. And his comments about a culture problem in the inner cities is dead on. People can ignore it and ignore it but doing so never fixes the problem. Democrats don't dare say such things because all they care about is getting their votes, not helping inner city people. I guess the only thing to believe here is Nancy Pelosi and other like her must believe the inner city is fine just the way it is. Interesting.

    March 13, 2014 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  18. rs


    The left sees everything Repulicans say as thinly veiled racism. That is how thw keep their base stirred up and conservatives on their heals.
    No, no, you miss the point- the racism of the Right isn't "thinly veiled", it is right out there in the open, as obvious as a tarantula on a slice of angel food cake.

    March 13, 2014 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  19. lance

    Absolutely astounding the amount of ignorance by ryan and a lot of people posting. I am sure the founding fathers are rolling over in their graves. It IS Society's job to fund education for ALL equally. As a parent in L.A. school district it becomes obvious that education is not equal, and this is the first building block in ridding ourselves of poverty. As an example the schools here do not have enough books, not even enough for each child in the classroom to have their own book, ignore the fact that they expect kids to do homework without a text book.
    If we expect the US to survive we better start educating EVERY child so they can provide for their family

    March 13, 2014 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  20. DirtyHeat

    To all the liberals blasting Ryan.

    So there are no cultural problems in the inner city? The culture of violence that plagues the inner city is just fine? The decreased importance of a family structure is okay and does not effect child development? The drug culture that runs rampant in the inner cities should be overlooked and we should blame racism for the high numbers of black unemployment in the inner city? Or for the lack of quality education and emphasis put on education?

    March 13, 2014 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  21. Brad

    The liberal plan. "We'll take care of you. We know all your troubles are the result of evil whites. Just keep voting for us and we'll keep giving you handouts – just enough to keep you around... and voting us into office."

    March 13, 2014 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  22. Joe M.

    What's shameful is how Pelosi's "referral" to the media has gotten more attention than Ryan's report on poverty. But hey, it's CNN. What else could we expect.

    March 13, 2014 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  23. critical thinking

    To increase your chances of being successful, you need to embrace convention. You need to support a strong family structure, it can be a Father/Mother, Father/Father, Mother/Mother, it really doesn't matter as long as you have a family that loves, supports and places structure to a child life. It must be nourished with the values of self discipline and respect. It must be reviewed in a manner that looks at all that we have and not what we don't have.

    March 13, 2014 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  24. Nametbyrd

    I agree blacks are less educated than whites in inner city but that's by choice. They are Given every opportunity to advance in society but most would rather live in poverty and hope the system supports them rather than be a productive member of American society.

    March 13, 2014 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  25. gj2001

    Was Ryan referring to all " inner cities "? or just a select few " inner cities " that have populations that don't look like him?

    March 13, 2014 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
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