Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan issued a statement Thursday clarifying the “inarticulate” remarks he made a day earlier on a radio program about how the poor work ethic of “generations of men” living in inner cities had contributed to poverty.
“After reading the transcript of yesterday morning’s interview, it is clear that I was inarticulate about the point I was trying to make,” he said in a statement about the comments made Wednesday on Bill Bennett’s radio show. “I was not implicating the culture of one community – but of society as a whole.”
“We have allowed our society to isolate or quarantine the poor rather than integrate people into our communities,” the statement continued. “The predictable result has been multi-generational poverty and little opportunity. I also believe the government’s response has inadvertently created a poverty trap that builds barriers to work. A stable, good-paying job is the best bridge out of poverty.”
“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. I have witnessed amazing people fighting against great odds with impressive success in poor communities. We can learn so much from them, and that is where this conversation should begin.”
On Wednesday Ryan told Bennett he planned to introduce a welfare reform plan designed to “re-emphasize work” to help address what he described as a “culture problem” that contributes to poverty in urban areas.
“We have got this 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 to value the culture of work, so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with,” he said.
Those remarks drew ire from some Democrats, including Rep. Barbara Lee who released a statement Wednesday slamming Ryan for making what she considered to be “racially charged’ statements.
“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,’” she said in a statement. “As someone who sits on the Budget Committee with Mr. Ryan, I know that his assertions about the racial dynamics of poverty are not only statistically inaccurate, but deeply offensive.”
“Instead of demonizing ‘culture,’ and blaming black men for their poverty, Mr. Ryan should step up and produce some legitimate proposals on how to tackle poverty and racial discrimination in America,” Lee continued in her statement. “His uninformed policy proposals continue to increase poverty, not solve it. My colleague is demonstrating a complete lack of knowledge and understanding of the issues in urban and black communities.”
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver also criticized the comments during an appearance on PoliticsNation Wednedsay evening.
“I am so disappointed in Chairman Ryan, and I’m saying this very very seriously. It is my hope that he really doesn’t mean what he said,” Cleaver said “It is my hope that he just doesn’t know people in the inner city.”
“I grew up extremely poor at one point in my childhood but I never heard anybody say ‘Boy this is fun. I really am enjoying this. Let’s try to see how we can get some other people to join us,’” he continued. “Most people who are in poverty are struggling everyday to get out and I think it is an insult to those people to hear what Chairman Ryan said.”
Ryan noted in his statement that he reached out directly to Lee to “express” his clarified point.