NAMES: Billy and Linda Jenkins, husband and wife OCCUPATIONS: He, a GS-3 clerk; she, a GS-4 telephone operator, Washington, D.C . INCOME: Combined, $20,119 a year PLEASURES:Their daughter, night school classes, parties at home COMPLAINT: Their income, which would be substantial in other parts of the country, gives them a "lower middle class and struggling" status in Washington OUTLOOK: With a better "economic foothold" they'll survive .

Billy Jenkins speaks with a muted rage about inflation and its effect on his family. Though he and his wife earn between them what would be considered a substantial income in many other parts of the country, in Washington, D.C., their combined $20,119-a-year salary means they are "lower middle class and struggling," he says.

"We barely have our noses up over the water," Jenkins says. "The rest of us is submerged."

His wife Linda handles the family finances, though the job drives her "a bit crazy at times," she confesses, as she tries to square their needs and wants with their checking account balance.

Billy Jenkins, 26, works for the Small Business Administration in Washington as a GS-3 procurement control clerk -- a typically lofty sounding federal job title that means he directs the traffic flow of supplies that come to the SBA. Linda, 25, also works for the federal government, as a GS-4 telephone operator for the General Services Administration. Their daughter, Nicole, 5, is in kindergarten.

Though they live in a metropolitan area where a house that costs $100,000 is the norm rather than the exception, where the average federal worker earns about $22,000 and where they have the distinction of being part of the nation's most overheated retail market, the Jenkinses talk of coping, of the things they can't do and the things they've proudly learned to do without.

What they buy at the grocery depends greatly on what the calculator they began to tote with them six months ago tells them they can afford.

They drink water at meals instead of soft drinks or tea, and they take lunch to work in brown paper bags, rather than frequent the downtown restaurants where a hamburger can cost $3.

"We make our own entertainment, too," Linda Jenkins added. "You can disco at home, you know." Instead of serving party guests food and hard liquor, they invite a few friends over for wine or beer and prehaps a game of backgammon, or spend and evening listening to records on the stereo system they hope to have paid for by next May.

The Jenkinses live in a comfortably furnished two-bedroom apartment in Southeast Washington, a section of town with traditionally low rents and housing costs. But their rent, which was $270 a month when they moved in three years ago, has climbed steadlily. Today it is $327.

Linda Jenkins pay $110 a month on a consolidation loan she took out to meet some backed-up credit card payments. The loan should be taken care of by next August, and her 12 credit cards will either be torn up, hidden in a drawer or used with moderation, she promises.

Her husband buys fabric for his slacks and takes it for cutting to a tailor in Baltimore. He figures he saves about $35 on each pair that way. They also shop at thrift stores.

They took no vacation this year but have hopes for next year. They began to save last year for this year's Christmas. They figure they now save, after all bills are paid, about $60 to $70 a month.

Jenkins' mother lives with them, supporting herself with work at the apartment complex where they all live. She helps pay the family bills.

Jenkins and his wife take night classes at the local branch of the University of the District of Columbia -- the grandmother sees to the babysitting -- because they think education is their ticket to a better economic future, Jenkins, an Air Force veteran, has two years of college before enrolling at UDC and is majoring in biology. His wife studies business administration.

In spite of everything, the Jenkinses feel they are better off now than they were a year ago -- and much better off than their parents ever were -- at least in material terms. But "if I had what I wanted, I would have a house and a fund put away for my little girl to go to college so she won't have to go through what I'm going through now," Billy Jenkins said.