Here's a ray of sunshine amid the continuing avalanche of bad economic news. The number of down-on-their-luck Americans clinging to unemployment benefits to get by took a sharp plunge last week. "The Labor Department says weekly applications fell by 37,000 to a seasonally adjusted 391,000, lowest level since April 2," the AP reports. That's the first time we've hit under 400,000 since August 6. And showing just how positive those numbers are, Reuters notes that the analysts it polled expected new claims to total 420,000 last week. But wait, there's more! Another report from the Commerce Department this morning finds that the economy grew faster than expected this spring, at an annual rate of 1.3 percent in the April-June quarter. That's up from a 1 percent estimate from last month. Bloomberg attributes the growth to strong exports and spending on services.

Ok, but are you ready for the caveats? According to the AP, some of the decline in unemployment claims is due to "technical difficulties related to seasonally adjusting the figures" and "some states also reported higher applications in previous weeks due to Hurricane Irene." But hey, we'll take any good news we can at this point. As Reuters summarizes the morning's news, "There is cautious optimism the economy will skirt another downturn as factory output continues to expand, although at a slower pace than earlier in the recovery, and businesses maintain their appetite for spending on capital goods."