An article Sunday about young adults whose income is between the poverty level and the middle class, Part One of the Almost Poor series, should have said that Wayne Miller attended H.D. Woodson High School. (Published 11/3/87)

In the summer of 1977, there was money to be made. That's what two teen-agers, one flipping burgers in Montgomery County, the other dishing out frozen yogurt on Vermont Avenue in the District, thought the first time they held down jobs.

Angela Keel was scraping grease from the grill at the Red Rooster, a hamburger carryout in rural Damascus where she was paid $2.75 an hour, 40 hours a week.

When the heat and customers seemed nearly unbearable, she would think of what was ahead: college. She would earn a teaching degree. She was sure she would never have to do this type of work again.

That June, Wayne Miller was already pushing the levers of the soft-serve machine at Yummy Yogurt when his former classmates from H.B. Wilson High began applying for summer jobs. Miller had quit school in March after a few weeks of making $2.90 an hour for 32 hours a week. Living at home in Southeast Washington, he contributed to the family budget but now could buy clothes and go to the movies. He thought he had found the right formula: Work hard, good money will follow.

Late this summer, Keel and Miller still lived in their old neighborhoods and remained strangers to each other. Yet their worlds had grown closer in 10 years. Last year, Keel, 28, was paid $13,000 as a full-time teacher in a private school in Silver Spring. Miller, 26, made $11,000 as a janitor in the Navy Yard in Washington.

By government standards, both were above the poverty level. By their own, in an area where food and housing costs consistently rank among the nation's highest, they were barely making it. They earn too much to be eligible for federal aid but too little to afford middle-class comforts.

They live with roommates. They budget their paychecks to the penny. Things their friends might take for granted -- deciding which movie to see or whether to eat out tonight -- come hard to them. The early show at the movie theater is no bargain matinee -- it is the only show in town.

"When I was in school, I figured I would make enough to support myself -- to support myself comfortably," Keel said in an interview last August. "And now here I am. I've been out of school for six years, and where am I?"

Asked to describe themselves, in separate conversations, Keel and Miller said much the same thing. They are what they didn't think possible. They hope the future holds more. But for now, like so many 25- to 34-year-olds who are paid more than $9,940 and less than $18,700 a year, life has come down to one word.

Poor.'I Just Can't Support Myself'

On a Monday afternoon in August, after a six-hour day at the preschool program of Centers for the Handicapped Inc. and before the night shift started at the Sandpiper Restaurant in Olney, Angela Keel was busy. She had opened the newspaper to the classified ads -- the section she knew better than any other -- and was drawing red circles around ads for trained special education teachers. She had a stack of resumes at one end of the table, a stack of recommendation letters at the other. Her foot jiggled nervously as she outlined cover letters for each application.

This was her leisure time.

"Every year I apply. And every year, I keep trying. I've probably applied to 25 places so far this year," she said. "I've got to do something. If I can't get a teaching job in a public school system this year, I'm going to have to get out. I just can't support myself on what I'm making. Plus I don't feel that good about myself, making $13,000. I feel that I'm worth more than $13,000 and I'm just not happy making that money. I'm working this hard and for what?"

A decade after her first job at a hamburger stand, Keel had a schedule unlike that of anyone she knows. She worked 40 hours a week during the week, teaching mentally and physically disabled youngsters. Five nights a week, she tended bar at a family restaurant. During the winter, she had worked a third job, on weekends, as an administrator in a walk-in health care clinic. Her earnings last year: $13,000 from her full-time job, plus $5,000 from the other jobs.

"My brother's an engineer. He graduated a year after me, and he's making more money than I am now," Keel said. "My sister is in marketing and she tells me, 'Angela, get out of it. You won't make any money.' None of my friends make so little. My boyfriend makes $24,000 a year as a salesman. And he doesn't even have a degree . . . . It's a shame, because I love this job, and I love the kids. But I didn't think I'd have to be doing these other jobs to survive.

"Do you know what it's like to say to people -- friends, family -- that you make $13,000 a year? In Montgomery County? I mean, people hear that and they want to start buying you things. It's embarrassing." For a moment, she was quiet. Her tall, thin frame bends forward and her voice, once quick-paced and vibrant, drops. "More than that, it's depressing."

Compared with other young people and, notably, other young women, in her income bracket, Keel seemed to have done all the right things to make it in today's economy. She earned a high-school degree. She enrolled in a four-year college, Indiana University of Pennsylvania. She chose what she thought was the ultimate middle-class profession, teaching.'I Wish We'd Get a Decent Wage'

But getting into that middle-class profession proved far harder than Keel realized. She returned to her home town and found no shortage of teachers in her specialty. And with her grade-point average, 2.5 on a 4.0 scale, she had no offers from the public school system. She began working for the Montgomery County school system as a substitute teacher one year, making $50 a day, and then as a teacher's assistant for two years, earning $11,000 annually.

Finally, she took a full-time job with the private Centers for the Handicapped to get experience she hoped would lead to a full-time position in the public school system. The $13,000 salary was the highest she had ever been offered for teaching and included an important benefit, health care.

"I think sometimes that we need to evaluate the system and how we reward people for the work they do . . . . I don't want to do something else. But I wish we'd get paid a decent wage for the work we do. I don't really know what I feel like I'm worth. But certainly more than $13,000 a year," she said.

Keel's day began in the classroom at 7:45 a.m. Her students, seven 3- and 4-year-olds, have cerebral palsy and other neurological problems. None can stand up alone. Only a few can sit without toppling.

As their teacher, Keel was responsible for stimulating the children through games and stories, planning lessons and completing the paper work required by a school dependent on a variety of funds. As a practical matter, she and a classroom assistant had little time to rest between class work and the essentials of child care: changing diapers, toilet training, feeding the children and cleaning the bathroom and classroom after each venture.

When classes ended at 3 p.m., Keel raced to her apartment, a first-floor rental unit in Montgomery Village, to change into the shorts and blouse she wore as head bartender at the Sandpiper Restaurant. She had time to check the messages on her phone machine, no time to return them. By 4 p.m., she had to be in Olney for the five-hour shift. She would eat something at the restaurant. She returned home to sleep and then rose to start another workday.

"I don't really mind working other jobs because I've always had to," Keel said. "But . . . I don't even consider myself middle class anymore. I'm really between poor and middle class."

Keel was one of three children in her family and all had to adhere to a strict work schedule at home. Every summer, each compiled a daily job list. Monday: 9:30 a.m. vacuum, 10 a.m. dusting, and so on. Her parents required her to get a summer job "so I'd realize what hard work was." When Keel entered college, her parents paid tuition and board; Keel paid for her books and clothes.

Keel would have described herself as a fiscal conservative, partly out of philosophy and certainly out of necessity. She bought furniture second-hand, chose clothes on sale and found a roommate to split her $700 monthly rent. She would not have wanted government help.

"I wouldn't say I was raised to get the best but to try to get the best with what I have. I never go to my parents for money. I could, but I wouldn't.

"A lot of women at work plan to get married and think about it for financial reasons. I mean, I think about marriage. I think a lot of people think about it -- everybody wants to have a companion that they can share life with and a family. But I don't think about it for financial reasons. I say to myself: Hey, I'm going to do what I want to do and be happy with myself and then I'm going to deal with the rest of my life. But it is hard . . . .

"A couple years ago, I was having trouble budgeting and I needed a new mattress. One day, I was talking to my parents and telling them how bad my mattress was. I guess I must have gone on and on about it. Finally, my dad turned to me and said, 'Why don't you just go out and buy a new mattress. Do you need help with money?' I said, 'No, Dad, of course I can finance a mattress.' And then I started crying.

"Hell, I needed the money."Miller Got 'Infatuated' With Money

Wayne Miller's resume would fill pages. After Yummy Yogurt, he waited on tables at a senior-citizens' center, worked as a carpenter, took two successive food-service jobs, held a few part-time construction jobs, became a security guard and later a file clerk. Now, he is a janitor at the Navy Yard.

In sporadic bursts of energy, Miller has earned a handful of certificates from community adult education courses: leadership skills, carpentry, typing. Still, more than a decade after he left high school and like so many young workers who live slightly above the poverty level, Miller does not hold a high school equivalency degree.

"I never intended to quit school when I did, but I got so busy making money that I got infatuated with that. It wasn't a lot of money but it was more than I had ever had. It was my own. And it was more than my own parents could give me.

"The problem was I couldn't see ahead. I know that education is the way and that it gives you an extra edge . . . . Right now, I know I can't ask too much from anybody because I don't have any skills. But I do plan to get the GED {general equivalency diploma}. And, for a good job, all I need is the opportunity, an opportunity. I know I can do whatever I have to do."

Miller was earnest when he talked about getting more education and training, but he resisted being pinned down about how or when. And simpler commitments -- such as keeping appointments -- were difficult for him to meet. A few months before, he began attending counseling sessions with Comtex, a nonprofit group that tries to improve life management and job skills. Educator Mary Johnson, who founded the training program to help men like Miller, said he has made progress, but "we have to continue to encourage him."

"There are people out there like Wayne -- people not as well off as Wayne -- who don't realize the part they must play in their upward mobility," Johnson said. "They dream, but they don't do more than that. We encourage people to plan and to set realistic goals.

"Wayne has grown a lot," she said. "Initially, he had some wide gaps."

Miller said he has never held one job for more than two years because he was always looking for something better. But he said that at times he also "had an attitude" that held him back. He was fired as a government file clerk when he could not keep up with the work.

"I had opportunities when I could have moved up in management, in food service work, but I ruined it. I would say, 'I don't have to take this job. There's lots of jobs out there.' Or I'd look around and say, 'I don't have to work so hard. This person here, next to me, isn't working so hard.' I didn't realize it didn't matter what other people were doing; that I just had to watch out what I was doing. It was a real downfall."

"When I go looking for a job now, people ask me, 'Why did you leave that job. Why have you been going from job to job?' It's taken me a while, but I started to realize I had to stick with one thing and get a good reference. If I didn't, it looked like I was some kind of wanderer, like I wasn't really stable or sure of myself . . . . My mother and sister would tell me that but I had to find out for myself."'One Person Who Is Trying to Make It'

Miller has had health insurance only a few years in his life. He has no savings account and says the amount of money he has to spend at the end of the month is determined by whether his car needs a new part. He lives with his sister, with whom he splits the $417-a-month rent for their two-bedroom apartment.

But when similarities were pointed out between himself and other young, single adults living above the poverty line but below middle-income Americans, Miller shrugged. He does not see his problems as other people's concern.

"I look at myself as one person who is trying to make it. I try not to look for excuses when things don't go the way I want, like discrimination against minorities or anything like that . . . . You can always blame someone for your own mistakes. But you have to remember this: In the workplace, nobody cares. You just have to do what you have to do . . . .

"One good thing about my life is I'm single, and I don't have any children. I'm not financially situated for marriage and, anyhow, I haven't found someone I'd want to marry. You have to be realistic about those kinds of things. Money does matter in a relationship. Because you're limited by your means. If you have kids, you want them to have more than you did growing up.

"The only person I have to worry about and rely on is myself . . . . I've never been in a bind that I haven't been able to get out of. I'm pretty well off, though I know I could be better.

"Sometimes I worry. But I say, 'Since I've made it this far, and I'm not really hungry and I have faith in my ability to work, I can be at ease with myself. I know I can make it. I mean, everybody has trials and tribulations."

Miller believes his upbringing -- a father who held a steady job and a mother who upheld strong religious values for the children -- gives him an uncommon example to follow. His mother, who died three years ago, in particular urged her children to achieve, Miller said. She never wanted him to quit school. Sitting at home, Miller chided himself for not following his mother's wishes.

"My mom kept me out of trouble. She always said, 'Whatever you need, I will get you. You don't have to steal or deal drugs or do anything like that.' From her, I always believed . . . if I can make an honest living, nobody can deny me what I want. I want to be able to do what I want and be respected at the same time."

Last summer, Miller worked from 7 a.m. to 3:45 p.m., waxing floors and stripping woodwork in government buildings at the Navy Yard in Southeast. After work, he spent time with his brothers and sister, sometimes watched television, sometimes read the Bible. He was attending career counseling sessions on Saturdays with Johnson. He said he planned to get his GED.

"What I want to do is go into management with McDonald's. I know I could do something like that . . . . What you got to do in life is work hard. Work hard. What the government gives you is peanuts, nothing. You can't get ahead that way."'Now I'll Get Some Respect'

Several weeks ago, Angela Keel got a call from an administrator at a school district in Williamsburg. Within days, she had an interview. Within the week, she had a new job as a teacher of learning disabled in a public school system. For the first time in her life, she is being paid more than $20,000 a year at one job.

"I've been waiting for this for six years," she said. "Nobody can really understand what this means. Nobody in my family could understand why I kept at that job. Why I thought it was -- and is -- an important thing to do.

"This is great because now I'll get some respect. I'm a professional. And I'll be able to take care of myself."

The same week, Wayne Miller sat in his apartment and talked about what he hoped the next year would bring. He would like to get a management job making more money, preferably $30,000 a year, he said. He had just bought some books to start studying for his GED. He said he needed to set some goals.

"Once I decided that I wanted to have a house by the time I was 26. But then I realized that wasn't big enough. I had to think big enough. Now I want to try to do something like having a chain of real estate." NEXT: Raising a family