SALT Conference

Paul Ryan stakes position in war on poverty

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Rep. Paul Ryan, known largely as debt and deficit reformer, is expanding his focus to poverty fighter, telling a crowd Friday that government has done an inadequate job helping poor people.

The Wisconsin Republican and 2012 vice presidential nominee encouraged a crowd of hedge fund executives to join forces with the public sector to eradicate a problem he said has gotten markedly worse over the past few years.

"One of the inadvertent casualties in the war on poverty is that we've reinforced the idea that government is going to fix this," Ryan said at SkyBridge Capital's SALT 2014 conference in Las Vegas. "That's just not going to cut it anymore. Each and every one of us in America has a very important role to play."

To help his efforts at awareness, Ryan has enlisted Robert Woodson, the head of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise.

Together, they are preaching the values of self-responsibility and the importance of making work more lucrative and attractive than public assistance.

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"The poor are losers in this bipartisan debate between the left and the right," Woodson told the conference.

Their efforts have met mixed reviews; the left-leaning Huffington Post recently labeled the Paul-Woodson team's poverty prescriptions as "straight out of the 19th century," but the two remain undaunted.

"There are incredible opportunities in our communities in this country for untapped wealth and opportunity," Ryan said. "Only by getting out of the ivory tower, out of the Beltway, and going into poverty-stricken communities can you see this amazing untapped potential."

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Ryan pointed to a high school in his Milwaukee district that had been plagued by gangs and violence.

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A coalition of community leaders declared a "violence-free zone" around the school and has been able to quell some of the problems, he said.

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It's all part of an effort to address the root causes of poverty, develop a public-private coalition, and make work a better alternative to public assistance.

"Families who want to get out of poverty, when they try to do so they end up losing more than they gained by going to work in many instances," Ryan said. "We have a lot of perverse incentives built into the system that need to be addressed so that it always pays to work."

By CNBC's Jeff Cox.