House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) has backtracked from comments he made on Wednesday, suggesting that young “inner city” men are “not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work” because they rely on government assistance. The remarks, first reported by ThinkProgress, sparked outrage from a growing number of Democratic lawmakers, one of whom called the comments “a thinly veiled racial attack.”
In a statement issued to ThinkProgress, Ryan said he regretted the comments and stressed that he did not intend to slander an entire community:
After reading the transcript of yesterday morning’s interview, it is clear that I was inarticulate about the point I was trying to make. 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. 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.
Ryan’s office initially sought to substantiate the Congressman’s claims by pointing to research conducted by Harvard’s Robert Putnam, whose research has found that lower-income Americans are more distrustful of others and more disconnected from society’s important institutions than their middle or higher-income counterparts. However, the research doesn’t examine whether poor people are unwilling to work.
Ryan has said he will focus on reforming the nation’s poverty programs in his next budget.
On Wednesday, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) fired back at Ryan, saying that his comments “are a thinly veiled racial attack and cannot be tolerated.” Her office confirms to ThinkProgress that the two have spoken about the matter.