The congressman's initial remarks came during a Wednesday appearance on Bill Bennett's "Morning in America" radio show, prompted by a question about what Bennett called the "fatherless problem."
"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," Ryan said. "There is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with."
During the interview, Ryan cited a 2012 Harvard study that found a "growing youth class gap," where young people from working class backgrounds are more disconnected from society and community institutions like family, school and church than their middle and upper class peers. That study controlled for a number of factors, including region of the country and "urbanicity," finding that an individual's engagement with society has less to do with whether they grew up in an urban environment than their class background.
Ryan's comment was immediately met with criticism from his House colleague, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.).
"[Ryan's] comments about 'inner city' poverty are a thinly veiled racial attack and cannot be tolerated," Lee said in a statement. "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.'"
Crew of 42's Lauren Victoria Burke asked Ryan about the comments on Thursday, asking the congressman if he wished to "revise and extend his remarks on black men."
"It was a long talk and [Bennett] asked about the culture and I just went off of that,” Ryan said. “This has nothing to do whatsoever with race. It never even occurred to me. This has nothing to do with race whatsoever."
Ryan also issued a statement further explaining his remarks.
“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. "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."