Marvin Kosters and Murray Ross' article "Now the Good News: The Middle Class Lives" {Outlook, Feb. 7} is a shallow intellectual exercise. The 9 million working poor Americans who live in the real world outside the American Enterprise Institute realize that it is untrue and mean-spirited to claim that "part of the stagnation in wages is more apparent than real."

Messrs. Kosters and Ross assert that "the main reason for low annual earnings is not wages but low working hours." In part, this may be true. But this is not because the poor do not wish to work, but rather because they can't find full-time work.

Messrs. Kosters and Ross also fail to face up to another important issue. The federal minimum wage has been frozen at $3.35 since 1981. Its purchasing power in 1981 dollars is $2.52 today. It would take a wage of $3.64 per hour to allow a full-time year-round worker with a two-person family to escape poverty. For a three-person family, $4.31 would be needed; and for four people, $5.52. These numbers make it clear that a great many of the working people of America are being driven into poverty and not enjoying middle-class status. Is this the type of social policy that Messrs. Kosters and Ross believe is acceptable?

Jobs with livable wages are the preferred social policy. The Minimum Wage Restoration Act of 1987, introduced by Rep. Augustus Hawkins (D-Calif.) and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), would raise the minimum wage to $3.85 the first year, $4.25 the second and $4.65 in the third year. The wage would then be indexed so that it would equal 50 percent of the average nonagricultural, nonsupervisory wage level. The Hawkins-Kennedy bill would bring wages in compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which was designed to enable workers to live above poverty and support their families in dignity.

The millions of Americans living in poverty would be better served by this approach than by continued efforts to ignore the reality in which they live.

ERICA E. TOLLETT Senior Policy Advocate Center for Law and Social Policy Washington