You often hear that we are now living through the worst recession since the early 1980s, and the comparison is not wrong… Is the economy only a little worse than it was in the last couple recessions, as some have said, and still a long way from the dark days of 1982? Or are we instead on our way toward something that may even approach the severity of the Great Depression? …I thought it would make sense to get some clearer historical perspective,..And it shows, for starters, that the economy is not yet as bad as it was in the early 1980s. It’s not even that close to being as bad.
By David Leonhardt, Jan 21, 2009, NYT

Link to article

Key differences between 2009 and the early 1980’s:

Prime Rate
1981: 20.5%
2009: 3.25% (Current)


Inflation

1980: 14.8%
2008: 0% (December)


Unemployment Rate

1982: 10.8%
2008: 7.2% (December)


30-Year Mortgage Rate

1981: 18.5%
2009: 4.96% (Current)


Real Gas Price (2008 dollars)
1981:
$3.45 per gallon
2009: $1.82 (Current)