James Kilpatrick {op-ed, July 15} chastised Sen. Edward Kennedy and Rep. Augustus Hawkins for the "cruel kindness" of their minimum-wage bill, which, according to Mr. Kilpatrick, would make small businesses unwilling to hire young workers.

Mr. Kilpatrick's hypothetical situation does indeed raise some questions about the bill, but let's examine the cruel kindness of his alternative proposal, which is to leave the minimum wage at $3.35 an hour. A person working 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year at that wage would earn $6,700, well below the poverty line. Mr. Kilpatrick should try living on that kind of income before recommending it to others.

It is shallow nonsense to accept Mr. Kilpatrick's implicit contention that labor costs are the sole determinant of profitability for a small business. In Mr. Kilpatrick's example, restaurant owner Kennon was being squeezed by rising food costs and rent. As an alternative government policy, then, why not reduce price supports for farmers or enact tougher laws against rent gouging? Or why doesn't Kennon raise his prices so that his customers, presumably more wealthy than the hypothetical waitress Joann, could transfer some of their income to her?

It is silly to assume that all the problems a small business might face are due to labor costs and mean to ask the poorest among us to bear the greatest burden of price cutting. MARK J. USELLIS Washington

Contrary to Mr. Kilpatrick's implication that mom-and-pop operations are the big employers of minimum-wage workers and thus will have their slim profit margins seriously cut by a proposed increase in the minimum wage, I thought it was big, prosperous nationwide businesses like McDonald's that were the prime employers of those at the bottom end of the wage scale. MARGARET TACKNEY Arlington