The House Budget Committee’s March 3 report, “The War on Poverty: 50 Years Later,” states that “the single most important determinant of poverty is family structure,” closely followed by a disinclination to work. The sponsor of the report, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., claims the problem is single-parent households raising children with neither the desire nor capacity to acquire skills to support themselves as adults — creating a vicious cycle of dependency persisting across generations. He blames government-sponsored social programs for permitting the lazy among us to avoid taking responsibility for themselves and their children, and he believes the cure for this self-inflicted condition is tough love: Poor people need stronger incentives to get off the couch and find a job.
In a radio chat with Bill Bennett, drug czar under George H.W. Bush and secretary of education under Ronald Reagan, Ryan seemed to inject race into the argument, saying, “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 culture of work.” Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., called it racist. The New York Times columnist and Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman agreed, calling Ryan’s reference to inner cities an obvious “dog whistle” — a coded, offensive message understood by a targeted few.