You would think the three men were describing three different cities.

"There is something wrong that concerns me deeply, in a city where the economy is fairly stable . . . the problem of jobs is being managed badly . . . the city is in trouble and nobody seems to recognize this . . . The business community is a little more cautious than it has had to be, waiting for government to take the lead," states Sterling Tucker.

"Business moves in spite of government, which does nothing . . . to do business in this town is like jumping into a lion's den. You have to push and pull . . . and I find that when 50 percent of young people between 18 and 25 are out of work, that's intolerable. I don't care what you have to do" to develop more jobs, it must be done, adds Marion S. Barry Jr.

"There is an atmosphere of confidence . . . an economic turnaround is apparent . . . we're going into another period, with an upsurge, accelerated rebuilding of downtown and neighborhoods in one of the great new stages" of the city's history, states Walter E. Washington.

The three men, each a candidate for Mayor of the District of Columbia in Tuesday's Democratic Party primary, were describing their views of the city's economic and business climate today, in the final days of an election campaign that has not often been focused on such economic issues as housing, rent control, jobs, development and utility bills.

Still, the candidates say these are the problems of most concern to voters at a time when the District is continuing to recover from a recession that has become but a footnote in the history of affluent suburban Washington. Parts of the city reflect similar wealth and an unprecedented construction boom is in progress within the city lines. But many D.C. residents aren't sharing in income growth as the cost of living continues to expand faster here than in other cities.

One of the three Democrats - incumbent Mayor Washington or one of his two challengers, City Council Chairman Tucker and At-Large Council Member Barry - is almost certain to be Washington's chief executive for the next four years.

Two Republicans, Arthur Fletcher and Jackson Champion, also are seeking to be elected as mayor.But the small number of GOP voters in the city is a handicap that virtually assures a Democratic victory in the general election.

In separate interviews last week, the three Democrats detailed some of their plans to boost the Washington economy and provide more jobs. On several major issues, the candidates differed sharply.

On minimum wages, for example, Washington unequivocally endorsed the pattern of recent years during which the city's minimum wage has been higher than that of the nation or surrounding counties in Maryland and Virginia, putting him at odds with business leaders who claim this is costing the city lower paying jobs for unskilled workers. Barry and Tucker were far more cautious on the wage issue.

A minimum wage of $3.25 an hour has been proposed for the city, as a method of increasing consumer spending, greater demand for goods and services and creation of jobs to meet that demand (the current federal minimum wage of $2.65 is scheduled to rise to $2.90 in January).

The Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade, the area's principal business group, has argued that continuation of higher city wages would put D.C. at a competitive disadvantage with the suburbs.

Washington, who is running with the support of the city's labor establishment, said higher costs of living in the city "justified a minimum wage higher than the metropolitan area . . . for people not on welfare, who want to work and take care of their families."

The mayor said he is "not convinced" that businesses have moved from the city to suburban locations merely because of higher minimum wages. "My study shows that they move because of sites," rents or other problems, he added.

Barry said he has "mixed emotions" on the minimum wage scale and indicated he might favor a figure somewhat below $3.25 an hour. "I can't be against people earning more money but you have to take into account" data showing a loss of jobs to the suburbs.

At the same time, Barry advocated looking at minimum wages as part of an overall study of decisions that affect business. A "package" of programs dealing with all types of business taxation as well as the city's wage structure could end up with higher wages but reduced taxation as a compensation to encourage business retention, he suggested.

A Barry administration, he continued, also would study the possibility of creating a certain number of jobs in private industry for which the city would pay salaries.

Tucker said: "I want every worker to get every dollar he or she can. At the same time, we have to remain competitive."

The council chairman also said the government should take some action to balance the adverse impact of rising minimum wages for Washington companies and he supported the concept of considering minimum wages as one element of an overall approach to the city's economic problems.

One solution might be different tax rates for industries that normally hire large numbers of less skilled workers at the minimum wage, Tucker said.

If the candidates differed on minimum wages, they were unanimous in support of a proposed convention center for the city.

On overall development in the city, Barry proposed by far the most extensive program of attracting new business to D.C. Describing Mayor Washington's record as "miserable," Barry said he would move in January to expand by three or four times the city's new Office of Business and Economic Development.

He vowed to establish at least 10 regional offices around the country to promote Washington business and placed special emphasis on tourism, including broadcast advertising and promotion of D.C. hotels as places for tourists to stay, rather than in the suburbs. Barry also called for creation of a "one stop" government office where businesses would go to process all types of licenses or to seek information.

Tucker said he would "go to industry and sell Washington. I'll get out aggressively myself." He said it is too early to assess Mayor Washington's economic development office, partly because much of its initial attention has been devoted to a convention center favored by the city's business leaders.

The council chairman said he would focus his administration's attention on development of light industry, particularly along the New York Avenue corridor in Northeast. "People think in terms of Washington as a company town, the federal establishment and white collar employment," he said."But a lot of our people are not going to be white collar employes. We've got to match the potential work force with jobs."

Mayor Washington, who dismissed criticism of his administration's efforts to attract new business as "the difference between rhetoric and achievement," said an application has been filed with the federal government to fund a study about the feasibility of light industry along New York Avenue and the impact on nearby residential neighborhoods.

In addition, Washington said his business development office is conducting research on why businesses leave the city or move in.

On other topics, the candidates had these views:

Jobs - Barry said he would meet soon after taking office with private employers and encourage the hiring of D.C. residents where they find two "equally qualified" people, one of whom is a resident of the city and the other a suburbanite. He would meet with federal government officials and ask them to "make a conscious effort to locate and hire D.C. residents" as well as double the number of youths hired by the city from 15,000 this summer to 30,000 next year. Tucker emphasized tax incentives to attract businesses that would hire D.C. residents, adding to the jobs base at first before tax revenues flow to the government. Washington said he is convinced current jobs programs and proposed tax credits for businesses that hire trainees will lead to a steady decline in unemployment.

D.C. Business Community - Tucker said "they've had to be moved along . . . a segment is still dragging its feet. To some degree, it does not quite see its potential but it's been left on its own." The Mayor, who has lost some business community support to Tucker, described the local leaders as "more and more sensitive to the full (list) of needs that have to be met in the community," in sharp contrast with a decade ago. Said Barry: "The leaders are more aggressive but the followship (inactive leaders) is parochial, selfish and not involved politically and in the city."

Utility Regulation - Washington said the staff of the Peoples Counsel, representing the public before the Public Service Commission, should be expanded and given the challenge of proposing future changes "that may more adequately regulate" telephone, natural gas and electricity suppliers. Barry said the city cannot tolerate a situation where utility bills are rising faster than spendable income and suggested different rates for different classes of citizens. Tucker said consumers "are always going to be unhappy with rate increases" and proposed a broad educational program by the Peoples Counsel and the utilities to get more public understanding of the need for expansion and what amounts to reasonable rates. Barry opposed public ownership of utilities as too expensive but Tucker and Washington said such a possibility should be left open to future study.