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A Black Eye for Cleveland?

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- On Feb. 1, United Airlines (UAL - Get Report) announced that it will demote Cleveland from a United hub to a mere spoke.

As United CEO Jeff Smisek wrote in his announcement, "Our hub in Cleveland hasn't been profitable for over a decade, and has generated tens of millions of dollars of annual losses in recent years. We simply cannot continue to bear these losses."

But is it also a major loss for the city of Cleveland? It could hurt the arts. What if it squeezes the middle class?

Cleveland has endured a long list of indignities: a precipitous decline in population, the closure of much of its heavy industry, the infamous fire on the Cuyahoga River. Both the city and its former baseball and football stadium have been nicknamed "the Mistake on the Lake." LeBron James broke its heart with "the Decision" to start playing for Miami's basketball team. Its most popular tourist talking point is its "Hastily Made Tourism Video."

And now, it is no longer a United hub.

Clevelanders saw this day coming when United and Continental merged in 2010. Cleveland was the Continental Midwest hub, and Chicago was the United hub. It doesn't come as a shock that Chicago won out.

The Plain Dealer described the change as "a psychological blow to Cleveland, a city whose tough attitude masks an often-shaky self-image."

More than that, it will eliminate nearly 500 jobs: 430 airport operations jobs and 40 catering jobs, by Smisek's count.

Cleveland is the latest in a list of Midwestern cities that have seen their airline hub status eliminated. In an interview, TheStreet's Ted Reed ticked off a list of former hubs in the region: Dayton, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Columbus, St. Louis. Now Cleveland. The airline industry has contracted substantially over the past couple of decades, Reed said. All of these smaller city hubs have shuttered, and Charlotte is one of the only smaller hubs standing.

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