House budget committee chairman Paul Ryan has come under fire from Democrats over comments he made Wednesday while discussing the problems of fatherlessness, poverty, and unemployment in America's inner cities. During an appearance on Bill Bennett's radio program, Ryan said that the government had created a "poverty trap" by creating "incentives not to work and to stay where you are, that’s not what we want in society."
Ryan later added that "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 the value and the culture of work so there’s a cultural problem that has to be dealt with."
"Everyone has got to get involved," Ryan continued. "So this is what we talk about when we talk about civil society, if you’re driving from the suburbs to the sports arena downtown by these blighted neighborhoods, you can’t just say: I’m paying my taxes and government is going to fix that. You need to get involved. You need to get involved yourself – whether through a good mentor program or some religious charity, whatever it is to make a difference. And that’s how we help resuscitate our culture."
Congresswoman Barbara Lee, a Democrat from California, denounced Ryan's comments as "a thinly-veiled racial attack" that "cannot be tolerated."
In a statement released Thursday, Ryan said that his remarks were "inarticulate."
"After reading the transcript of yesterday morning’s interview, it is clear that I was inarticulate about the point I was trying to make," Ryan said. "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 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," Ryan continued. "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."
Here's a transcript of Ryan's interview with Bill Bennett:
Bill Bennett: Let’s move on to CPAC. You gave a talk about poverty and lifting people out of poverty. A great party has a plan to get people out of poverty. What’s the plan? What are the broad outlines? What’s the roadmap as some might say?
Paul Ryan: In a nutshell, work works. It’s all about getting people to work. And when you were one of the leaders of welfare reform in the 1990’s, we got excoriated for saying that as a condition of welfare, people should go to work and it should be a bridge not a permanent system. And it worked very well but there were dozens of other welfare programs that didn’t get reformed that have sort of overtaken events and have now made it harder for people to get into work. We call it a poverty trap. There are incentives not to work and to stay where you are, that’s not what we want in society. We want upward mobility and we want people to reach their potential so the dignity of work is very valuable and important and we have to reemphasize work and reform our welfare programs like we did in 1996 so they have an eye on getting people into the workforce so that’s really the goal here. And the point is, let’s get everyone in a system so they can maximize their potential and push for equality of opportunity versus what I would call the liberal, progressive vision of equality of outcomes. And there’s a big difference in philosophy here and I think we’ve proven that work is important. There’s dignity in it, there’s self-worth in it, and there are a lot of people slipping through the cracks in America that are not reaching their potential and we as conservatives should have something to say about that.
Bill Bennett: We had a report yesterday from the Pew people on the millennials. We’re setting records in terms of people not working. Part of it is the economy; part of it is policy but there’s a cultural aspect to this as well. Boys particularly learn how to work. Who teaches boys how to work? You lost your dad at an early age, who taught you how to work?
Paul Ryan: Mentors and my mom. My dad’s buddies taught me how to hunt and taught me a lot of things, and my mom.
Bill Bennett: Hunting is not working, is it?
Paul Ryan: No, but you can learn a lot of lessons there. By the way, you can teach your kids character in the woods. A lot of good life lessons are learned in a tree stand, Bill.
Bill Bennett: The fatherless problem is a big one. This has something to do with people’s attitudes. I asked my guys, and you know my boys, what do you remember me saying most often. And they of course gave me a bad time and said lately it is: “What’s that? What’d you just say?” It’s pretty funny but they say: “Do your job, do your job.”
Paul Ryan: I remember more my mom was: “Suck it up, deal with it, and tough.” Those are the things I remember saying to me a lot.
Bill Bennett: But I mean, a boy has to see a man working, doesn’t he?
Paul Ryan: Absolutely. That’s the tailspin or spiral that we’re looking at in our communities. You know your buddies Charles Murray or Bob Putnam over at Harvard, those guys have written books on this, which is 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 the value and the culture of work so there’s a cultural problem that has to be dealt with. Everyone has got to get involved. So this is what we talk about when we talk about civil society, if you’re driving from the suburbs to the sports arena downtown by these blighted neighborhoods, you can’t just say: I’m paying my taxes and government is going to fix that. You need to get involved. You need to get involved yourself – whether through a good mentor program or some religious charity, whatever it is to make a difference. And that’s how we help resuscitate our culture.