A minimum wage of $3.50 an hour, equal to the highest government-set figure in the nation, officially was recommended yesterday for workers in the wholesale trade, manufacturing and printing industries in the District of Columbia.

If adopted, the new rate would bring a 60-cent hourly wage increase for at least 2,500 of the lowest-paid workers in the three industries. Management officials said it probably would trigger higher wages for many of the 25,000 other workers in those industries.

Onpaper, the current District of Columbia minimum wage in the industries is $2.46 an hour, set in 1973, but in reality all workers must be paid at least the federal minimum of $2.90, which took effect in January.

The machinery leading to a $3.50 rate was set in motion by the D.C. Wage-Hour Board, an arm of the city's Department of Labor, which voted yesterday to schedule a hearing for 10 a.m. May 22 at 614 H St. NW, Room 614.

Richard R. Seideman, the board's executive officer, said the earliest the increase could go into effect is September.

The hearing will be held on a recommendation made unanimously by a fact-finding panel that included labor, management and neutral public members. It said $3.50 is the least a worker should earn to maintain an adequate living standard.

The $3.50 figure was described as a compromise, with labor members pushings for $4 and management seeking to adopt the $2.90 federal minimum.

The $3.50 figure is equal to the wage floor adopted in February for maids and other domestic workers in D.C. That currently is the highest government-set-minimum wage in the nation. Alaska has the nation's highest minimum wage that applies to all industry groups. $3.40 an hour.

The proposed new wage revived an old controversy between labor and managenment over the effect of a District minimum wage that is higher than the federal minimum adopted generally for similar work by Maryland and Virginia. (Virginia permits a $2.35 rate for certain small businesses).

John R. Tydings, executive vice president of the Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade, said the proposal "is misguided public policy which is bound to shrink the number of jobs in the city" as employers move to the suburbs.

Robert E. Petersen, president of the Greater Washington Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO, disputed this. He contended that most workers in the printing industry already earn $4.50 or more, and that the increases would affect only those paid at the poverty level.

Robert T. Kaufman, president of Printing Industry of Metropolitan Washington, a trade group,, and of Ex-speed-ite Service, Inc., a printing firm said the increase is bound to push costs upward as better-paid workers seek to maintain their advantage over those paid less.

Seidman said the new minimums would apply to the city's newspapers and would affect the minimum wage paid by The Washington Post to part-time inserters, who assemble printed sections into complete newspapers.

John M. Dower, The Post's vice president for communications, said the paper would not contest the increase. He said 60 to 120 inserters are hired each day as they are needed. A spokeswoman for The Washington Star said all inserting there is done mechanically.