The Corner

Ryan: Comments about Inner City Poverty ‘Inarticulate’

Representative Paul Ryan, who was assailed from the left for comments he made yesterday expressing concern about a “tailspin of culture in our inner cities,” has said that he wasn’t trying to implicate “the culture of one community.”

“It is clear that I was inarticulate,” he said.

Liberals accused Ryan of making essentially racist comments, and Representative Barbara Lee (D., Calif.) called the line a “thinly veiled racial attack.”

Ryan’s statement today reads in full:

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 full comments yesterday, when asked on Bill Bennett’s radio show about the problem of fatherlessness, read as follows:

That’s the tailspin 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 hard 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.

The context is simultaneously exculpatory and confusing: For all the bile directed at Charles Murray, his more-recent work and Robert Putnam’s studies have focused on the fact that the growing class divide, between unmarried parenting and fractured communities among the uneducated and stable families and strong societies in the upper income strata, doesn’t seem to show noticeable racial disparities. Mentioning them is a clear indication that he sees the ravages of poverty cutting across ethnicities and regions. On the other hand, Putnam’s work doesn’t show any association between urban residency and worse outcomes, either, and Murray’s most recent work, 2011’s Coming Apart, focused on white Americans, who aren’t, for the most part, inner-city residents.

So why did Ryan mention the tailspin in our inner cities? Poverty still is more concentrated there than basically anywhere else in America — which is why he’s been doing a lot of visits to cities in preparation for launching his poverty plans. Jamelle Bouie of the Daily Beast, who’s otherwise harsh on Ryan’s comments and ideas, says “it’s clear” those experiences are why Ryan referred to cities.

Patrick Brennan was a senior communications official at the Department of Health and Human Services during the Trump administration and is former opinion editor of National Review Online.


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