Is there a way to get the ethnic breakdown (within limits) on a zipcode basis in the US?
I was looking at this census data but its insanely hard to parse.
Where kind I find data that is more easily parsed?
The Census Bureau has far easier avenues of extracting data through the American FactFinder (AFF). There are many tutorials for how to use AFF, but it is generally not been 'intensely hard' to use for me. By downloading the information in .csv format, you would be able to download the latest information from the ACS, or the 2010 Census.
The data you are looking for is found in the Demographic Profile Summary File (DPSF). The data contains population counts by age groups and race/ethnic. It contains entries for all census geographic areas (including ZCTAs which are approx. of US Postal Zip Codes).
The "raw" summary files are packaged on a state by state basis. At the parent FTP directory, the file 0FILE_STRUCTURE.doc describes how to use the files. The description of TABLES_2010.DBF starting on page 13 describes the column layout of the data fields.
Each state has zip package with three files:
0000120101.dp : this is the data file geo20101.dp : this is the geographic reference file that maps the geographic identifier to the geographic type and place name.
Each row in the data file (example is from Alabama) starts like this:
The fifth field (e.g., 0000001) is the geographic identifier. The fields following this are the data and are ordered as described in the description of TABLES_2010.DBF.
Another access method is to use the US Census Data Ferret. I have only limited experience so far in using it. But it is an online interactive application that will help you select sources and fields to build and download a custom table.