WASHINGTON -- Some inner city men suffer from a culture that does not value hard work, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said Wednesday.
"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," the Wisconsin Republican said on Bill Bennett's "Morning in America" radio show. "There is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with."
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) called Ryan's remark "deeply offensive."
"My colleague Congressman Ryan's comments about 'inner city' poverty are a thinly veiled racial attack and cannot be tolerated," Lee said in an email to reporters. "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.'"
During his radio interview, Ryan cited a Harvard study finding that youth from lower-class backgrounds tended to be more isolated from society and civil institutions. Ryan's office noted that the study's authors themselves emphasized that their work focused on class and not race. (The study controlled for a variety of factors, including "urbanicity," suggesting an "inner city" environment predicted less about young people's civic engagement than their class background.)
Ryan's comment was prompted by a question from Bennett about the "fatherless problem" and young people needing to see their parents working to understand the value of work. Ryan went on to say people should get involved in inner cities.
"If you're driving from the suburb to the sports arena downtown by these blighted neighborhoods, you can't just say, 'I'm paying my taxes, government's got to fix that.' You need to get involved," Ryan said. "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."
Ryan himself spent some time last year visiting cities and talking to ex-convicts "about the means of their salvation," the Washington Post reported in November.
The former GOP vice presidential candidate will soon unveil a budget proposal that would likely overhaul federal safety net programs for poor people while saving money for the federal government, one of his longstanding goals. Ryan has said programs like food stamps and Medicaid "trap" people in poverty because earning higher income through work means less eligibility for benefits. Ryan said last week that liberal poverty policies give people "a full stomach and an empty soul."
Though poverty has long been concentrated in urban areas, for the past decade it's been rising faster in the suburbs.
This story has been updated with a comment from Rep. Barbara Lee.